Douglas Schemske is an evolutionary ecologist known for his work on adaptation, speciation and geographic patterns of biological diversity. His studies have been influential in identifying the ecological and genetic mechanisms that allow plants to adapt to their local environments, how adaptive differentiation contributes to speciation and the role of species interactions in the evolution of high tropical diversity. Schemske was born in Chicago, Illinois. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1970 with a degree in biology and received his PhD in ecology and evolution from this institution in 1977. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, and held faculty positions at Amherst College, The University of Chicago, The University of Washington and Michigan State University. He received the Mercer Award from the Ecological Society of America, the E.O. Wilson Naturalist award from the American Society of Naturalists and is a member of the American Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Douglas Schemske's research investigates the ecological factors that contribute to adaptation and speciation, and the genetic architecture of adaptive traits. Through long-term field experiments, he seeks to identify how adaptations arise. Key questions include: Is adpatation due to few or many genes? Do adaptive genes have large or small effects? Do adaptations often display fitness tradeoffs, i.e. do traits and genes that improve performance in one environment often reduce performance elsewhere? He and his colleagues have employed a number of different plant systems to address these questions. Work on two closely-related species of monkeyflowers with different pollinators revealed that the transition from bee-to hummingbird polllination was due to a relatively small number of genetic changes, with some of very large effect. Reciprocal transplants of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana between the northern and southern edges of its native range in Europe identified flowering time and freezing tolerance as major adaptive traits. Each was controlled in part by genes of large effect, and for freezing tolerance, there was strong evidence of fitness tradeoffs. The results from these and other studies lend support to the idea that strong ecological interactions coupled with major genes and genetic tradeoffs are integral elements of adaptation.

Membership Type


Election Year


Primary Section

Section 27: Evolutionary Biology

Secondary Section

Section 63: Environmental Sciences and Ecology