John W. Fitzpatrick, the Louis Agassiz Fuertes Director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University, has been elected president of the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU).
The AOU is the oldest scientific organization in North America and the Western Hemisphere's largest professional organization for scientific research in bird biology. The society, which is responsible for reviewing ornithological research findings and selecting the official English and scientific names of North American birds, publishes the technical journal The Auk . The AOU held its annual meeting at Cornell in 1999.
Before joining the Cornell faculty in 1995 to teach conservation biology, Fitzpatrick was the executive director and senior researcher at Florida's Archbold Biological Station. He began his career as curator of birds and chairman of the department of zoology at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Fitzpatrick was elected to a two-year term as president at the AOU's 118th annual meeting last month in St. John's, Newfoundland, succeeding Frank Gill, the senior vice president for science at the National Audubon Society.
Since 1972, Fitzpatrick and his colleague Glen Woolfenden have published dozens of papers and an award-winning book on the ecology and social evolution of the Florida scrub-jay, a cooperatively breeding bird that was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1987. Their long-term study is widely considered to be a model for research on endangered and threatened birds worldwide. Fitzpatrick also has led numerous expeditions to remote regions of South America, and hehas discovered and named seven bird species new to science.
Past AOU president include some of the world's leading professional ornithologists, such as Ernst Mayr, who is regarded as the leading 20th century architect of the modern synthesis of the theory of evolution. Commenting on his election, Fitzpatrick said: "I am deeply honored to serve among the ranks of America's most respected ornithologists. For more than 100 years, ornithologists have made pivotal contributions in the scientific fields of ecology, evolutionary and behavioral biology, and natural resource management. It is particularly exciting to help lead scientific ornithology as we enter the 21st century, an age in which birds play a larger role than ever as barometers of environmental change."
Fitzpatrick said he looks forward especially to increasing the role of the AOU's Conservation Committee in producing white papers that address the most pressing conservation problems facing North American birds.