For the past 20 years, Thomas E. Martin has explored the causes and consequences of nest predation in birds. Nest predation is the principal determinant of nesting success in many birds, and Martin's work pioneered its careful study in relation to avian ecology as a whole. No researcher before him has delved so deeply into the relation between nest predation and avian life histories. His work on the adaptiveness of nest location and of the importance of other species nesting in the same types of sites has changed how we think about communities of nesting birds. Never before had ornithologists considered the possibility that birds may shift their nest sites in the competition to avoid nest predation.
He has taken a reliably skeptical approach to the work of others, questioning received wisdom in such areas as the relative predation rates of ground-nesting and shrub-nesting birds. He questioned the notion that hole-nesting birds laid larger clutches because of reduced nest predation rates and suggested instead that the larger clutches of cavity-nesters are a response to the limited availability of nesting cavities.
He has taken a synthetic approach to the relation between nest predation, parental care, behavior and clutch size, and he and his students have tackled a broad array of questions on the parental care of birds. This work has culminated most recently with an impressive comparison of nest-predation rates, parental care, and clutch sizes of North and South American birds, bringing data from his long-term detailed studies in Arizona and new field work in Argentina to bear on the ideas of Alexander Skutch to explain large-scale patterns in clutch sizes.
Martin has not been content to pursue his own field research. He has pioneered the creation of a network of cooperating biologists throughout the United States, called BBIRD, that monitors nest-predation rates together with standardized descriptions of nest placement and surrounding vegetation, for thousands of nests in forest-nesting birds. Thus, this network studies, on a continental scale, the relations among habitat, nest placement, and nest predation.
The BBIRD data set also lays an empirical foundation that will serve as a valuable resource for more intelligent conservation of birds throughout the United States. Martin's awareness of the applied value of his work is mirrored in the dedicated work he accomplished editing the volume from the 1992 meeting of Partners in Flight. His acute editing advanced the integration of conservation science and ornithology in North America.
For questioning dogma in all studies of avian life histories, for revitalizing the study of avian nesting habits, for the creation and dissemination of a web-based information-gathering network on the life histories and reproductive success of forest passerines, and for dedicated work toward the conservation of North American birds, the American Ornithologists' Union is proud to honor the contributions of Dr. Thomas E. Martin with the Elliott Coues Award for 2000.
The Elliott Coues Award is given for meritorious contributions having an important influence on the study of birds in the Western Hemisphere, but which have not been recognized through a Brewster Award. Contributions to ornithology not eligible for recognition with a Brewster Award by virtue of geographic limitations may be honored through a Coues Award, as may works including important innovative ideas that through brevity of publication outside the primary ornithological literature may not have been selected based on Brewster Award criteria. However, the Coues Award is not necessarily limited to such works. The award consists of a medal (authorized by the AOU Council at their 2000 meeting) and an honorarium provided though the endowed Ralph W. Schreiber Fund of the American Ornithologists' Union.