Marlene Zuk

Regents Professor

Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, College of Biological Sciences, 2019

Marlene Zuk, acclaimed scientist in the fields of animal behavior and evolutionary biology, is a professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior in the College of Biological Sciences, as well as the college’s associate dean for faculty. She came to the University of Minnesota in 2012, after 23 years at the University of California, Riverside. Zuk is described as an innovative thinker, an exceptional researcher, and a skillful and supportive mentor and advisor. She is credited with defining new questions, as well as developing theories and procedures that are now considered foundational in the discipline. Zuk is also celebrated as a prolific and engaging writer and communicator; in addition to her numerous scholarly publications, her many forays into popular media have brought scientific fact and processes to bear on the issues of our time in a way that is accessible to the general public. 

From the start of her career, Zuk has made groundbreaking contributions to her profession. As a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, she and her PhD supervisor, renowned evolutionary biologist William Hamilton, proposed one of the first and most influential theories of the role of parasitism on sex selection, known as the Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis. Her work has played a key role in connecting parasitology with modern thinking about evolution, ecology, and behavior, and she is considered a pioneer in researching the evolution of immunity and immune response. Zuk has published over 150 research papers, many in top-tier scientific journals such as Science, Trends in Ecology & Evolution, and theJournal of Evolutionary Biology. Her work has more than 14,000 citations in the literature—five of her papers have over 500 citations each; the Hamilton-Zuk paper alone has over 3,700. These figures are truly remarkable for a researcher in this area. Zuk is also lauded for bringing science to the general public; she has published several highly successful books on sexual selection and evolution that are of interest to general readers, and is a regular contributor in the op-ed sections of such esteemed popular media publications as the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

Zuk has received a variety of prestigious awards for her exemplary scholarship. In 2017, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and also holds elected fellowships in the Animal Behavior Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She holds honorary doctorates from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland (2016) and Uppsala University in Sweden (2009), both of which are leading universities in the field of evolutionary biology, and she is a recipient of the Edward O. Wilson Naturalist Award from the American Society of Naturalists (2015). In the last five years alone, Zuk has given over 50 invited lectures around the world.

Zuk is an inspirational and respected mentor and teacher. Students describe her as a dedicated mentor who is skilled at drawing out her mentees’ strengths and encouraging their creativity, and who genuinely values the many perspectives her students bring to class. Her students and advisees also credit her with helping them improve their writing and fostering a commitment to diversity and inclusion. Many of her doctoral students have gone on to become notable scholars in their own right. In addition, Zuk is a champion of undergraduate research, serving as an adviser for several honors and directed research students each year and supervising both undergraduate and graduate students in her lab. She also teaches the department’s graduate foundations series, a two-semester course for first-year graduate students. 

Zuk’s service to her discipline and the University are also exceptional. At the University, she serves as a governing board member for the Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science (MCPS), and she has held numerous leadership positions in her field, including president of the International Society for Behavioural Ecology (ISBE) (2004-08), vice president of the American Society of Naturalists (2013-16), and editor of Behavioral Ecology (2002-06)andAdvances in the Study of Behavior (2015-present). Also noteworthy are Zuk’s contributions to equity and diversity. At the University of California, Riverside, she served as the associate vice provost for faculty equity and diversity from 2005-10, and her efforts during her term as president of the ISBE led to the society’s reputation as a model for gender balance. She is truly a role model for those seeking to dismantle systemic barriers to participation in the sciences.

Biographies are as-of time of award presentation.