Stearns Graduate Student Prize

ESEB & the Journ­al of Evol­u­tion­ary Bio­logy (JEB) edit­or­i­al team award an annu­al prize for the best paper by a gradu­ate stu­dent pub­lished in the journ­al in a cal­en­dar year. The prize is named after Steph­en Ste­arns, who did so much to estab­lish both JEB (includ­ing serving as first Edit­or) & ESEB (art­icle).

The Ste­arns Gradu­ate Stu­dent Prize is aimed at recog­nising out­stand­ing gradu­ate research, so the paper should primar­ily arise from a sig­ni­fic­ant piece of work which was included in a Mas­ters or PhD thes­is. The prize will be con­ferred at the nearest ESEB Con­gress and announced in the journ­al and online.

The award comes with an invit­a­tion to the ESEB Con­gress (travel expenses and regis­tra­tion fee covered), a present­a­tion in one of the con­gress sym­po­sia, and a cash prize of 250 €. We expect the cor­res­pond­ing or seni­or (first) author to be the gradu­ate stu­dent primar­ily respons­ible for the research and paper writ­ing, and the super­visor will be asked to con­firm this for short­l­is­ted papers. We expect papers to be sub­mit­ted at the latest with­in five years of start­ing a PhD pro­ject. When papers are accep­ted we will ask if the paper is eli­gible to be con­sidered for the award, and that all the authors agree to this. The prize will be selec­ted by the Decid­ing Edit­ors of the journ­al, and we expect the next award to be for a paper pub­lished in 2022.

Winner 2021

JEB & ESEB are delighted to announce that the win­ner of the 2021 Ste­arns Prize for a paper pub­lished in JEB by a gradu­ate stu­dent is Juli­ette Amini­an Biquet, for her paper “Phen­o­typ­ic plas­ti­city drives phen­o­lo­gic­al changes in a Medi­ter­ranean blue tit pop­u­la­tion” ( Juli­ette will present some of her work at the ESEB2022 con­gress in Prague, Czech Republic.

Picture J. Aminian Biquet
© J. Amini­an Biquet

We con­duc­ted this study dur­ing my Mas­ters degree in 2019, super­vised by Céline Teplit­sky and Suz­anne Bonamour, helped by Pierre de Ville­mereuil and the awe­some tit team at CEFE (Mont­pel­li­er, France). Forty years ago, research­ers ini­ti­ated mon­it­or­ing of a blue tit pop­u­la­tion in Cor­sica, which now enables us to study their char­ac­ter­ist­ics, includ­ing the evol­u­tion of their phen­o­logy over time. These birds have been lay­ing eggs earli­er and earli­er, likely adapt­ing to the chan­ging cli­mate, and the induced troph­ic shifts, to match the earli­er peak of prey abund­ance. For my mas­ters’ thes­is, we wanted to under­stand wheth­er the lay­ing date advance­ment was due to changes in the genet­ic com­pos­i­tion of the pop­u­la­tion, induced by selec­tion across gen­er­a­tions, or due to plastic vari­ations with­in each gen­er­a­tion of tits. Address­ing such research ques­tions remains chal­len­ging in wild pop­u­la­tions, where mon­it­or­ing indi­vidu­al fit­ness is dif­fi­cult. Here, we used quant­it­at­ive genet­ics, thanks to 40-years worth of data and a well-doc­u­mented ped­i­gree. We also worked a lot on the choice of our stat­ist­ic­al Bayesian mod­el, to be con­fid­ent in our res­ults. Finally, we showed that these birds could adapt based on their lay­ing date plas­ti­city, and found no genet­ic changes related to lay­ing phen­o­logy. I per­son­ally was super excited to join this work on how we can describe and even­tu­ally pre­dict evol­u­tion of liv­ing beings. I am now work­ing on eco­sys­tem con­ser­va­tion, in which evol­u­tion­ary dimen­sions are very import­ant and dif­fi­cult to account for.

Winner 2020

JEB & ESEB are delighted to announce that the win­ner of the 2020 Ste­arns Prize for a paper pub­lished in JEB by a gradu­ate stu­dent is Jack Com­mon, for their paper “Diversity in CRISPR-based immunity pro­tects sus­cept­ible gen­o­types by restrict­ing phage spread and evol­u­tion” (

Picture Jack Common
© Jack Common

Jack fin­ished their PhD at the Uni­ver­sity of Exeter in 2021, super­vised by Edze Westra. Using bac­teria and phage as a mod­el sys­tem, their thes­is explored how host diversity affects the tim­ing, scale, and dynam­ics of host-patho­gen inter­ac­tions. In this paper Jack, along­side their co-authors, manip­u­lated the immune diversity of bac­teri­al hosts by con­trolling which CRIS­PR-Cas spacers were present in the host pop­u­la­tion. They then tracked the epi­demi­ology and evol­u­tion of a phage that can infect a single host gen­o­type in the pop­u­la­tion. They found that great­er diversity res­ults in pro­tec­tion of the sus­cept­ible host due to reduced con­tact rates with phage, along­side eco evol­u­tion­ary inter­ac­tions between host diversity, phage pop­u­la­tion size, and the like­li­hood of phage evol­u­tion. Out­side of their work, Jack writes fic­tion, cycles, and looks at moss.

Run­ners-up were Bruno Genev­cius, Graeme Keais, and Alex­an­dra Cones.

Winner 2019

JEB & ESEB are delighted to announce that the win­ner of the 2019 Ste­arns Prize for a paper pub­lished in JEB by a gradu­ate stu­dent is Thomas Keaney, for his paper “Mother’s curse and indir­ect genet­ic effects: do males mat­ter to mito­chon­dri­al gen­ome evol­u­tion?” ( Tom will present some of his work at the ESEB 2022 con­gress in Prague, Czech Republic.

© Tom Keaney

Tom fin­ished his Mas­ters of Bios­cience at the Uni­ver­sity of Mel­bourne in 2018, under the super­vi­sion of Luke Hol­man and Theresa Jones. His thes­is focused on mito­chon­dri­al genet­ic vari­ation, and how this can poten­tially be shaped by kin selec­tion act­ing on males, whose mito­chon­dri­al DNA were tra­di­tion­ally con­sidered to be invis­ible to selec­tion. In this paper he, along with his coau­thors, demon­strate that mito­chon­dria in male Dro­so­phila melano­gaster have an indir­ect genet­ic effect on female fit­ness dur­ing mat­ing inter­ac­tions. This, in prin­ciple, allows mito­chon­dri­al genes to respond to selec­tion on males when there is related­ness between mat­ing pairs. Tom is now in the first year of his PhD, con­tinu­ing his work with Luke Hol­man and Theresa Jones. He is now explor­ing intra­ge­n­om­ic con­flict, sexu­al selec­tion and their effects on pop­u­la­tion viab­il­ity. Out­side of his PhD, Tom is a keen bush­walk­er and sports fan.

Run­ners-up were Nadia S. Sloan and Daniel Shane Wright.

Previous Winners

2018 – James Santangelo

“Herb­i­vores and plant defenses affect selec­tion on plant repro­duct­ive traits more strongly than pol­lin­at­ors” (

2018 – Run­ners-up were Eva Troi­an­ou, Peter Mor­an, Urtzi Enriquez-Urzelai, Joshua Alpern, and Casper van der Kooi.

2017 – Jack Colicchio

“Trans­gen­er­a­tion­al Effects Alter Plant Defense and Res­ist­ance in Nature” (

2017 – Run­ners-up were Keely Brown, Zacharia Grochau-Wright, Ryosuke Irit­ani, Kim Kirch­hoff , and Erin Mor­ris­on.

2016 – Amaranta Fontcuberta

“Extreme genet­ic diversity in asexu­al grass thrips pop­u­la­tions” (

2016 – Run­ners-up were Matt Wilkins and Karl Grieshop.

2015 – James Lichtenstein

“Sim­il­ar pat­terns of fre­quency-depend­ent selec­tion on anim­al per­son­al­it­ies emerge in three spe­cies of social spiders” (

2015 – Run­ners-up were Arthur Porto, Evan Her­sh, and Dami­en Farine.

2014 – Ellie Harrison

“Sex drives intra­cel­lu­lar con­flict in yeast” (DOI: 10.1111/jeb.12408).

2014 – Run­ners-up were Kay Lucek and Sean Lee.