The New Phytologist Tansley Medal 2012


The New Phytologist Tansley Medal is awarded annually to a scientist who has made outstanding contributions to plant science in its broadest sense within 5 yr of receiving their PhD. The award was established in 2009 and has helped to highlight the careers of several successful scientists to date (Woodward & Hetherington, 2010, 2011; Dolan, 2012). This year's Tansley Medal winner is Robin Hopkins at the University of Texas, Austin (USA), who carried out her PhD with Mark Rausher at Duke University (North Carolina, USA; Box 1).

Robin has made very important contributions to our understanding of the mechanisms that underpin speciation. During speciation, reproductive isolation stops genomes of isolated populations mixing and can facilitate the evolution of local adaptations, which may become fixed in species. Traits that maintain differences between populations are said to reinforce the separation. The concept of reinforcement during sympatric speciation can be traced back to Wallace (1889) and since Dobzhansky (1940), identifying genetic mechanisms that underpin reinforcement has been a major research goal. Robin's research has focused on understanding the genetic mechanism underpinning reinforcement in Phlox and she discovered that regulatory mutations in genes controlling flower colour could be responsible for reinforcement (Hopkins & Rausher, 2011, 2012). Robin's minireview ‘Reinforcement in plants’, which is published in this issue of New Phytologist (pp. 1095–1103), highlights her contribution to this research.

This year's runner-up is Erik Verbruggen at the Free University of Berlin, Germany. Erik has skilfully embraced both theoretical and experimental approaches to understanding the evolutionary ecology of mycorrhiza. His minireview ‘Mycorrhizal fungal establishment in agricultural soils: factors determining inoculation success’, which is also published in this issue of New Phytologist (Verbruggen, pp. 1104–1109), focuses on the factors responsible for establishment of the beneficial soil fungi, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, that can enhance yield of a wide range of agricultural crops.

Congratulations to both Robin and Eric on their achievements – everyone at New Phytologist wishes them well in their future careers.

Box 1.


Robin Hopkins awarded Tansley Medal 2012 for excellence in plant science

Robin Hopkins is a National Science Foundation postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on understanding the role of natural selection during the process of species formation. In this context, she investigates the genetic basis of adaptation, the strength and causes of selection, and the interactions between evolutionary forces such as selection, migration and drift. Her work integrates molecular biology, population genetic analyses and field-based selection experiments in order to understand how plant species evolve prezygotic reproductive isolating mechanisms in sympatry.

Robin was inspired to become a plant evolutionary biologist while undertaking research in Dr Joanna Schmitt's laboratory during her undergraduate studies at Brown University (RI, USA). She received her PhD under the mentorship of Dr Mark Rausher at Duke University. The research included in the winning review article (pp. 1095–1103, this issue) was conducted as part of her doctoral dissertation research. Robin's thesis work built on the strong Rausher laboratory tradition of integrating fieldwork and molecular approaches to studying evolutionary change. Currently, as a postdoctoral research fellow with Dr Mark Kirkpatrick at the University of Texas at Austin, Robin is developing mathematical models to better understand the role of fundamental evolutionary processes in plant speciation.

Robin receives a £2000 prize in association with the Tansley Medal award ( For more information about Robin, visit or contact her at