Cynthia Carey is recognized world-wide as one of the most productive and innovative environmental physiologists of her generation. From one end of the Western Hemisphere to the other, she has explored the physiological and biochemical mechanisms that permit developing birds, as well as other vertebrates, to survive and thrive in extreme environments, particularly high altitudes and latitudes. Her seminal work on avian embryos has taught us how eggshell porosity affects gas exchange and how the water budget of the developing embryo is adapted to different altitudes. She has studied embryos and eggs in species as diverse as kiwis, coots, and sparrows living at altitudes from sea level to the high Andes, adding enormously to our knowledge of how embryos react physiologically to different elevations. She was one of the first to recognize the fact that avian adaptations to high altitude require not only maternal investments, through properties of the egg, but also true physiological adaptations in the developing embryological systems. Her studies of individual variation in eggshell gas conductance and its effect on embryo performance in Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) are original and path-breaking because they helped power the shift in environmental physiology away from interspecies allometry towards studies of individual physiological performance and Darwinian fitness.
Carey's research has revealed the causes of important functional differences among young birds at all levels from the gross structure of eggshells to the detailed biochemistry of the developing embryo. In addition, she described and studied the mechanisms that permit different bird species to survive in extremely cold environments and at high altitudes. Her studies have strengthened our grasp of the physiological and behavioral features that determine avian distributions and life histories. Particularly striking is the breadth of Carey's expertise, as demonstrated by the variety of techniques she has employed: biochemical studies of enzyme kinetics, structural studies of avian muscle, and organismal studies of energetics that integrate foraging, appetite, and energy storage.
A significant part of Carey's research is done with international scientific collaborators. Like birds, Carey knows no borders. She has organized numerous symposia at International Ornithological Congresses and meetings of the American Ornithologists' Union as well as for the former American Society of Zoologists and the Society for Experimental Biology. She excels at bringing people together to explore the essential role of physiology in any comprehensive effort to explain the evolution and distributions of birds. She has edited an important symposium volume on birds, Life in the Cold: Ecological, Physiological, and Molecular Mechanisms. She also edited Avian Energetics and Nutritional Ecology, which summarizes the field of avian energetics and is serving to provide the nascent generation of physiological ecologists with a structured research agenda for the next two decades.
For her innovative and truly integrative research on the adaptations of birds to elevation and cold and for her synthetic and constructive role in guiding the future of avian physiological ecology, the American Ornithologists' Union takes great pride in awarding the William Brewster Memorial Award for 2000 to Dr. Cynthia Carey.
The William Brewster Memorial Award consists of a medal and an honorarium provided through the endowed William Brewster Memorial Fund of the American Ornithologists' Union. It is given annually to the author or coauthors (not previously so honored) of the most meritorious body of work on birds of the Western Hemisphere published during the 10 calendar years preceding a given AOU meeting.