Penn Biologist Daniel Janzen Honored With BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award

PHILADELPHIA — Daniel Janzen of the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Biology is the recipient of the 2011 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Ecology and Conservation Biology category. Janzen was singled out for his contributions to the conservation and scientific understanding of tropical ecosystems.

Janzen is the DiMaura Professor of Conservation Biology at Penn. The award announcement describes him as “a supreme example of the complete ecological scientist” who has “shaped tropical ecology as we know it today.”

Janzen’s work has focused on caterpillars, including the plants they eat and the parasites that eat them. For 40 years, he has worked in Costa Rica, where he has collaborated with others to document and sequence a portion of the DNA of roughly 12,000 species. Janzen has involved local people in this work, training many to identify local species and participate in a broad inventory of the area’s biodiversity.

Working with his wife, biologist Winnie Hallwachs, Janzen helped acquire and restore degraded forest in Costa Rica to become the 163,000-hectare Área de Conservación Guanacaste, a tropical-forest reserve. The ACG is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, noted for incorporating community outreach and restoration ecology practices.

The BBVA Foundation award carries a prize of 400,000 euros, money that Janzen plans to invest back into his work in Costa Rica.

“It will allow me to finance multiple ‘small’ research projects in taxonomy, ecology and biodiversity development that other members of the team have not been able to finance for themselves,” Janzen said.

"This recognition is richly deserved," said Rebecca Bushnell, dean of Penn's School of Arts and Sciences. "As an inspiration to generations of students, a pioneering scientist, and a leading conservationist, Dan exemplifies the best of Penn's tradition of applying knowledge in the solution of pressing issues. He is truly one of the School's great treasures."

With the Frontiers of Knowledge Award, Janzen joins the ranks of fellow recipients Thomas Lovejoy, William Laurance, Peter Reich and Edward O. Wilson. Janzen is also the recipient of numerous other awards, including Penn’s Distinguished Teaching Award, the Joseph Leidy Medal, the Crafoord Prize from the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, the Kyoto Prize and a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship.

“Dan has always been innovative in his thinking, hands-on in his work and global in his reach,” said Greg Guild, chair of Penn’s biology department. “From dung beetles to caterpillars to DNA barcoding, he is always moving ahead -– and bringing the rest of us with him.”

The award, Janzen said, “helps me and Winnie to feel that at least some part of the greater community of scientists and users of biodiversity do appreciate what we are trying to do, and have been trying to do since 1985.”

The BBVA Foundation announcement:

A collection of Daniel Janzen’s photographs of tropical caterpillars: