Allan J. Baker, a leading scholar in avian molecular evolution, is the Senior Curator of Ornithology and Head of the Department of Natural History at the Royal Ontario Museum. A hallmark of Baker's research program is its depth and breadth. His Ph.D. dissertation reconstructed the evolutionary history and historical biogeography of the world's oystercatchers. He was a leader in using allozyme electrophoresis to study geographic variation in birds, multivariate mo rp ho metrics, and the comparison of genetic and morphological data. He also helped pioneer the application of population genetics to the transmission of song mémes in birds. Baker was among the first ornithologists to switch to analyses of mtDNA to investigate evolutionary questions within avian species, and his study of the Dunlin (Calidris alpind) was a landmark paper in avian phylogeography. He incorporated modern DNA sequencing methods and retroposon insertions both to answer questions in deep avian history and to investigate evolutionary processes at the population level. His systematic studies were at the forefront of the field, owing to his use of mitochondrial genomes. For example, his studies of ancient DNA from moas has provided a fascinating glimpse into this extinct part of avian evolutionary history, as well as important insights into the tempo and mode of moa evolution. Lately, his work has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of rates of avian molecular evolution.
Baker is co-chair of the All Birds Barcoding Initiative (ABBI) steering committee, which aims to identify the > 10,000 species of birds in the world with unique DNA sequences from the COI gene. Another major research theme focuses on reconstructing the avian tree of life with molecular markers and then mapping other biological characters such as life history, behavior, geographic distribution, and ecology on the tree to understand their evolution. Apart from studying how biodiversity has evolved, Baker is very active in conservation of migratory shorebirds, which are declining around the world. In another landmark paper, he demonstrated that the rapid population decline in Red Knots (Calidris canutus) was caused by overfishing of horseshoe crabs and their eggs in Delaware Bay, thereby preventing most birds from refueling properly and lowering their annual survival in the Arctic breeding grounds. Along with Professor Theunis Piersma, Baker is cofounder of the Global Flyway Network, which provides an early-warning service for identifying migratory shorebirds at risk.
Throughout his career, Baker's many publications have been aimed at general audiences and have resulted in fundamental contributions to our knowledge of the evolution of birds at multiple taxonomie tiers and of evolutionary processes in general. For his outstanding and influential work in avian molecular evolution, the AOU presents Allan J. Baker with the William Brewster Memorial Award for 2007.
Award criteria.—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 co-authors (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.