Secretariat of the International Prize for Biology, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS)

International Prize for biology

Past Recipients


The Committee on the International Prize for Biology of Japan Society
for the Promotion of Science awards the 2016 International Prize for
in the field of "Biology of Biodiversity" to
Dr. Hubbell, Distinguished Professor of University of California, Los

  On 3 August, the Committee on the International Prize for Biology (chaired by Dr. Takashi Sugimura, President, the Japan Academy) of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science decided to award the 32nd (2016) International Prize for Biology to Dr. Stephen Philip Hubbell, Distinguished Professor of University of California, Los Angeles.
  The field of specialization for the 32nd Prize is "Biology of Biodiversity."

NAME :  Stephen Philip Hubbell
DATE OF BIRTH :  February 17, 1942
NATIONALITY :  United States of America
PRESENT POSITION :  Distinguished Professor, University of California, Los Angeles

Education and Professional Positions

1969   Ph.D. Zoology, University of California, Berkeley
1969–1974 Assistant Professor, Zoology, University of Michigan
1974–1975 Associate Professor, Zoology, University of Michigan
1975–1980 Associate Professor, Zoology, University of Iowa
1980–1988 Professor, Zoology, University of Iowa
1982–1988 Staff Scientist, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
1988–1999 Professor, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University
1999–2002 Professor, Plant Biology, University of Georgia
2002–present Senior Staff Scientist, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
2003–2007 Distinguished Research Professor, Plant Biology, University of Georgia
2007–present Distinguished Professor, UCLA


2003 Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
2004 Marsh Global Ecology Prize, British Ecological Society
2006 Lamar Dodd Creative Research Award
2006 W. S. Cooper Award in Plant Ecology, Ecological Society of America
2008 Kempe Global Ecology Award, Sweden
2009 Thomson Reuters Citation Laureate
2013 Eminent Ecologist Award, Ecological Society of America
2014 Scientific Achievement Award, International Union of Forestry
Research Organizations

Achievements Recognized by the Award

  Dr. Stephen Philip Hubbell has contributed greatly to biodiversity research by proposing the unified neutral theory of biodiversity and biogeography, which he then evaluated using data from large permanent forest census plots that he pioneered and he and his colleagues established in tropical and temperate forests around the world.

  Tropical forests often have extraordinarily high tree diversity: some of the plots contain more than 1300 species. A fundamental scientific challenge in ecology is to explain how so many species can coexist in a single community. The mechanisms that allow organisms that use the same resources (as do trees, for example) to coexist in the same community has traditionally been explained in terms of niche differences among the constituent species in a community. That is, coexistence was thought to be possible because the species that make up a community have different species traits and the community spans microenvironments in which a particular set of traits is advantageous and others in which these traits are disadvantageous, favoring other species with different traits. In contrast, Dr. Hubbell’s neutral theory postulates that community biodiversity can be adequately explained without invoking species traits and niche differences. Hubbell’s theory builds on the theory of island biogeography proposed a half century ago by MacArthur and Wilson, which postulates that the species richness on islands is a dynamic equilibrium between the rate of immigration of species to the island from a mainland species pool, and the subsequent extinction of species after they establish on the island. MacArthur and Wilson argued that the biodiversity of an island could be explained by species-independent factors such as the island’s size and distance from the mainland. However, the theory of island biogeography only explained species richness, not species abundance—the commonness and rarity of species. By adding a process of speciation to the theory of island biogeography and recasting the neutrality assumption at the individual, not the species level, Hubbell showed that a stochastic drift process could explain patterns of commonness and rarity in addition to species richness remarkably well.

  Dr. Hubbell and his coworkers made a detailed analysis of the tree community on Barro Colorado Island in Panama by laying out a survey plot covering 50 hectares, a far larger area than had been customary in previous forest surveys, and tagging, mapping, measuring and identifying every woody plant with a stem diameter of 1 cm or larger. The tree species abundance distribution obtained by this study could be explained by a mathematical theory that assumed random, species-independent processes of drift, dispersal, and speciation. These results attracted a great deal of attention because they suggested the possibility of explaining diversity by a neutral theory with very few assumptions, at least to a first approximation. The published findings provoked intense debate worldwide and the hypothesis was tested in a variety of ways. While cases that cannot be explained by neutral theory alone have since been noted, Dr. Hubbell is credited with the pioneering early advocacy of the importance, in the mechanism by which biodiversity is maintained, of stochastic processes and the movement of organisms on various spatial scales. Neutral theory now provides a widely accepted fundamental baseline for explaining biodiversity, to which more complexity can be added when needed.

  After Dr. Hubbell and his colleagues published their work, large survey plots like that of Barro Colorado Island were established in tropical forests around the world and verification studies of tropical forest tree diversity were carried out. Survey plots of this kind have now been expanded to temperate forests as well as part of an international network coordinated by the Smithsonian Institution. Further, the advances made in this research have many implications for areas of application such as biodiversity-conscious ecosystem management, the conservation of rare species, and the impact of global climate change on forests.

  In these ways, Dr. Hubbell’s research has not only made a major theoretical contribution regarding the mechanisms by which diversity is generated and maintained in biotic communities, but it has also opened up a new phase in practical field research. These distinguished achievements in advancing the biology of biodiversity make Dr. Hubbell a worthy recipient of the International Prize for Biology.

Representative Publications:

  1. Hubbell, S. P. 1979. Tree dispersion, abundance and diversity in a tropical dry forest. Science 203: 1299-1309.
  2. Hansen, S. R. and S. P. Hubbell. 1980. Single-nutrient microbial competition: qualitative agreement between experimental and theoretically forecast outcomes. Science 207: 1491-1493.
  3. Hubbell, S. P. and R. B. Foster. 1983. Diversity of canopy trees in a Neotropical forest and implications for the conservation of tropical trees. pp. 25-41. in Sutton, S. J., Whitmore, T. C. and Chadwick, A. C. eds. Tropical Rain Forest: Ecology and Management. Blackwell, Oxford, U.K.
  4. Hubbell, S. P. and R. B. Foster. 1986. Biology, chance and history and the structure of tropical rain forest tree communities. Chapter 19, pp. 314-329. in Diamond, J. and Case, T. J. eds. Community Ecology. Harper and Row, NY.
  5. Hubbell, S. P. and R. B. Foster. 1986. Canopy gaps and the dynamics of a Neotropical forest.  Chapter 3, pp. 77-95. in Crawley, M. ed. Plant Ecology. Blackwell, Oxford, U.K.
  6. Hubbell, S. P. and R. B. Foster. l986. Commonness and rarity in a Neotropical forest:  implications for tropical tree conservation. Chapter 10, pp. 205-231. in Soulé, M. ed. Conservation Biology: Science of Scarcity and Diversity. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, MA.
  7. Hubbell, S. P., R. B. Foster, S. O'Brien, B. Wechsler, R. Condit, K. Harms, S. J. Wright, and S. Loo de Lau. 1999. Light gaps, recruitment limitation and tree diversity in a Neotropical forest.  Science 283: 554-557.
  8. Hubbell, S. P. 2001. The unified neutral theory of biodiversity and biogeography. Princeton University Press.
  9. Hubbell, S. P., J. A. Ahumada, R. Condit, and R. B. Foster. 2001. Local neighborhood effects on long-term survival of individual trees in a Neotropical forest. Ecological Research 16: S45-S61.
  10. Condit, R., N. Pitman, E. G. Leigh, Jr., J. Chave, J. Terborgh, R. B. Foster, P. Nuñez V., S. Aguilar, R. Valencia, G. Villa, H. C. Muller-Landau, E. Losos, and S. P. Hubbell. 2002. Beta diversity in tropical forest trees. Science 295: 666-669.
  11. Volkov, I., J. R. Banavar, S. P. Hubbell, and A. Maritan. 2003. Neutral theory and the relative abundance of species in ecology. Nature 424: 1035-1037.
  12. Satake, A., Y. Iwasa, H. Hakoyama, and S. P. Hubbell. 2004. Estimating local interaction from spatiotemporal forest data, and Monte Carlo bias correction. Journal of Theoretical Biology 226: 225-235.
  13. Hubbell, S. P. 2005. Neutral theory in ecology and the hypothesis of functional equivalence.  Functional Ecology 19: 166-177.