Pierre Taberlet — Recipient of 2007 Molecular Ecology Prize



Pierre Taberlet's passage to becoming a leading figure in molecular ecology research has been somewhat unusual by today's standards. After graduating from the Université Joseph Fourier, Grenoble, and completing his national service in France in 1978, Pierre trained as a teacher and taught in high schools for a period of 10 years. Throughout this period, however, he never lost interest in research. So while employed as a schoolteacher, he found both time and energy to undertake research on a part-time basis, and in 1992 gained his PhD from the Université Joseph Fourier for a thesis on ‘Mitochondrial DNA and intraspecific phylogeography’. At this point Pierre switched careers and became a full-time researcher.

Pierre has since made outstanding contributions to the molecular ecology of animals and plants in a wide range of different areas, including the development of novel techniques, the comparative phylogeography of different species, pioneering work in noninvasive genetic sampling and landscape genetics, insights into avian and mammalian mating systems, and, more recently, the origins of domesticated animals.

One of his first research publications was an offshoot from his main research, and reported universal primers for amplifying three noncoding regions of chloroplast DNA (Taberlet et al. 1991). The development of these primers proved to be an important technical breakthrough in plant evolution research, in that it radically transformed the ability of researchers to undertake large-scale surveys of chloroplast DNA variation and therefore examine plant phylogeography. The value of these primers has stood the test of time and they continue to be widely used in both plant molecular systematics and plant phylogeographical research. At the time of writing, the paper reporting them has been cited more than 1200 times. In 1998, Pierre published what has become a classic paper in phylogeography (Taberlet et al. 1998) on ‘Comparative phylogeography and postglacial colonization routes in Europe’. This showed that phylogeographical congruence was often low between different species in Europe, although there were some similarities in regard to postglacial migration routes. A clear message from the paper (cited more than 600 times so far) is that phylogeographical studies need to be conducted on many different species before a comprehensive understanding is obtained of the recent biogeographical and evolutionary history of a region's biota.

Other notable contributions by Pierre have been to noninvasive genetic sampling (Taberlet et al. 1996, 1999) and landscape genetics (Manel et al. 2003). In addition, his work on identifying and quantifying molecular marker genotyping error has had a profound effect across the molecular ecology and conservation genetic research communities leading to increased standards in the quality of science in our discipline (Bonin et al. 2004; Pompanon et al. 2005). His research on the phylogeography and conservation genetics of bears is particularly well-known (e.g. Taberlet & Bouvet 1994), and his important collaborations on the historical biogeography of arctic and alpine plants (e.g. Alsos et al. 2007) recently led to his election as member of the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters (2005). In recent years, Pierre has taken a prominent role in using phylogeographical approaches to investigate the origins of domestic goats, cattle and donkeys (Luikart et al. 2001; Beja-Pereira et al. 2004; Fernández et al. 2006). For the donkey, the first evidence was obtained to suggest that it is the only ungulate solely domesticated in Africa (Beja-Pereira et al. 2006).

Pierre is currently in mid-career as a researcher and much more of great significance will undoubtedly come from him in the next few years. To date, his contributions to molecular ecology research have been wide-ranging and of an exceptional standard, making him one of the most influential figures in the field. He is currently the Director of the Laboratoire d’Ecologie Alpine, Université Joseph Fourier/CNRS, Grenoble, France, and has served as an Editor of Molecular Ecology since 2003. To all who know him, he is a warm and engaging individual who has an immense talent and enthusiasm for research. With typical warmth and enthusiasm, Pierre was unreserved in stating that he was delighted and honoured to be the recipient of the 2007 Molecular Ecology Prize at the award ceremony held in Edinburgh in August 2007.