Interview with evolution Editor Mark Rausher at Evolution 2016

Last updated: 12 Jul, 2016

We caught up with evolution section Editor Mark Rausher at the Evolution meeting in Austin, Texas, to talk about his recently awarded Sewall Wright award, and his career in plant science. Listen to the interview or read the transript below:



My name is Mark Rausher and I was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, which was, at that time, a real hot-bed of evolutionary biology and ecology. I was a graduate student at Cornell University, working with Paul Feeny on the evolution of plant-insect interactions. I did a brief stint as a post-doc with Mike Singer at the University of Texas, again working on butterfly behaviour and plant-insect interactions. And then I got my job at Duke University, where I became more and more interested in evolutionary mechanisms and evolutionary genetics.


I received, at the 2016 Evolution conference, the Sewall Wright Award, given by the Society of American Naturalists. The award is for essentially lifetime achievement in evolutionary biology and contributions both theoretical and emperical.


I think one of the main issues, or topics [in plant science and evolution], is the process of speciation and, in particular, how do isolating barriers arise, both pre-mating and post-mating. In particular I think we still have a lot to learn about the degree to which these arise as side effects of evolution in allopatry versus selection for divergence in allopatry. And we still have a lot to learn, I think, about adaptation itself, particularly things like the degree to which phenotypic convergence or parallelism is underlain by genetic convergence or parallelism and why it is so common or why it is not so common. Both of these kind of issues are going to require an integration across field studies, molecular biology, and genomics.


My advice to early career researchers would be to concentrate on topics and issues that you are passionate about, because passion is what drives the ability to continue doing the sort of nuts-and-bolts work that can often be boring but that can lead to novel discoveries.


Apart from doing science, which I love doing, still, after 45 years in this business, I also enjoy gardening and travel, and understanding history, so I read a lot about the history of the world and that sort of helps shape the way that I think about my life.


The last thing I'd like to add is simply that I'm very grateful to all of the students and post-docs who have come through my lab over the years, because they've really contributed to the body of work that our lab has produced and that I feel I have won this award for. And so I'd like to thank them, and say that I've enjoyed having each and every one of them in the lab.