The 2019 Katma Award will be presented to Benjamin Winger and his coauthors for “A long winter for the Red Queen: rethinking the evolution of seasonal migration,” published in Biological Reviews in 2018. The award is given by the American Ornithology Society to recognize “papers proposing ideas or testing theories that replace current dogma, or settled opinion, and could change the course of thinking about the biology of birds," according to the AOS website.  

Winger’s coauthors on the paper are ecology and evolutionary biology graduate students, Giorgia Auteri (Professor Lacey Knowles' Lab), Teresa Pegan (Winger lab) and postdoc, Brian Weeks (Winger Lab).

“This paper advances a new view on the evolution of birds’ seasonal migration, arguing that the primary adaptive driver of seasonal migration is the maintenance of site fidelity to familiar breeding locations,” according to AOS.

“Seasonal migration in birds is one of the most celebrated phenomena in nature and enjoys ample attention from ecologists and organismal biologists,” writes Winger in a summary of the paper. “However, a central issue has confounded researchers for decades: the selective pressures that drive the evolution of migration and the relationship of these processes to the evolution of geographic distributions. Owing to the complex geography of seasonal migration, establishing an evolutionary framework for seasonal migration has been elusive. Our paper reviews the literature on the evolution of seasonal migration and takes a novel direction by contextualizing migration within a broader array of organismal adaptations to seasonality than has typically been done in the ornithological literature. For example, by connecting seasonal migration in birds to a rich literature on adaptations to seasonality in other organisms — such as hibernation or diapause — the paper provides a broad picture of the selective pressures that lead to seasonal migration. Second, the paper illuminates an important connection between the adaptive value of maintaining fidelity to breeding sites year after year and the evolution of seasonal migration. The evolution of migration has traditionally been regarded as driven principally by exploratory dispersal of new breeding sites. By contrast, we posit that the inverse is true: that seasonal migration is an escape strategy that principally serves to maintain breeding site fidelity in the face of harsh seasonal conditions. That is, migratory birds fly far distances just to stay in the same place, hence the Red Queen metaphor in the title.”

This unique award was established by the Cooper Ornithological Society, which is now part of the AOS, in 2003 through a generous gift of the late Robert W. Storer, who was a former curator of birds at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. The award includes a $2,500 prize and a certificate and is announced at the society's annual meeting.

Storer explained the meaning behind the name of the award, “I propose the term katma, derived from the Greek root kat meaning “against” for theories that are proposed to replace current dogma, or settled opinion. I believe that there is a need for such a word. Unlike the impenetrable jargon of much modern science, the sense of this word is easily understood through the proverbial (and real) antagonism between cats and dogs.

“Why is katma needed? Science moves forward by the production and acceptance of new ideas, yet it has been increasingly difficult to air new ideas in both pure and applied sciences. Serious work that questions current dogma too often is stifled by those who are angered by seeing their own work questioned. Great katmatists like Galileo and Darwin are heroes of science.

“Establishing the Katma Award of the Cooper Ornithological Society is a positive effort to counter this trend by encouraging the publication and discussion of new ideas, especially those that run counter to established opinion.”

AOS award winners announced

Compiled by Gail Kuhnlein