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International group honors Zipkin for innovated ecology

Portrait of Elise Zipkin
Elise Zipkin

MSU associate professor Elise Zipkin has been honored by an international organization for her groundbreaking work transforming mountains of data into insights and tools to manage and protect some of the world’s most precious ecology.

The International Recognition of Professional Excellence (IRPE) Prize honors a young ecologist who has published uniquely independent, original and/or challenging research representing an important scientific breakthrough, and/or who must work under particularly difficult conditions.

Her award, in terrestrial ecology, honors that Zipkin, in the Department of Integrated Biology in the College of Natural Science, combines empirical data with innovative mathematical and statistical methods, leading to important breakthroughs at the intersection of quantitative ecology, community dynamics and conservation biology. The award carries an endowment of 3,000 euros.

“She has substantially contributed to new analytical frameworks for quantifying organism abundance in time and space, measuring community diversity, and improving how ecologists combine information to create models for the management of threatened and harvested species,” the award notes. “Many kinds of organism and systems have been addressed with uniform mathematical rigor enabling innovative ecological problem-solving. This has helped ecologists and natural resource managers to quantify and understand biodiversity dynamics and to develop conservation solutions.”

Zipkin, who is director of the Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior Program, has led her students in the Zipkin Quantitative Ecology Lab to explore the decline of monarch butterflies, rare snakes in Panama and leading model development of seabirds in the Gulf of Mexico.

Her research program has produced more than 70 well-cited publications in leading journals. The award also said her election as an IRPE Laureate was supported by her status as a stand-out as a mentor and role model for women in science, her dedication to student success, and for providing an environment and opportunities for her students to excel in their chosen paths.

Committed to open science, the award notes, the clear standards she developed for reproducibility in a widely used archive of her lab’s code has changed ecological data analysis to obtain strong inference, raising the bar for making good management decisions.

Zipkin also has been named an Ecological Society of America Early Career Fellow and a Fulbright U.S. Senior Scholar.

Inter-Research, a scientific publishing organization based in Germany, administers the prize, with judges from the International Ecology Institute, is a non-profit organization of research ecologists dedicated to fostering ecological knowledge and awareness.