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Carl Smith Medal awarded to leading ecology researcher

Thursday 4 July 2013

Carl Smith Medal awarded to leading ecology researcher

Dr Shinichi Nakagawa, a behavioural ecologist who has earned a growing international reputation for his research, is the latest recipient of the University of Otago’s Carl Smith Medal and Rowheath Trust Award.

The Award and Medal recognise outstanding research performance of early-career staff at the University and are accompanied by a $5000 grant for personal scholarly development.

Dr Nakagawa joined the University’s Department of Zoology as a Lecturer in 2008 and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2011. Prior to joining Otago he was a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal & Plant Sciences.

Announcing the award, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie warmly congratulated Dr Nakagawa and noted that in his relatively short time at Otago, he has made outstanding scholarly contributions to biological research in the areas of ecology and evolutionary biology.

“Shinichi is a highly talented researcher who has rapidly built a very promising research programme at Otago, and has developed extensive collaborations with researchers at the local, national and international levels,” Professor Blaikie says.

Dr Nakagawa’s diverse interests span behavioural & evolutionary ecology; evolutionary genetics & endocrinology; behavioural neuroscience; nutritional ecology & evolutionary gerontology; and statistical computational biology.

His significant contributions include pioneering a new approach to using meta-analysis in field biology, resulting in his methodology being increasingly adopted by biologists around the world.

Meta-analysis involves combining data from many researchers and drawing a general trend from a wide array of studies. It is well-established in medical and social sciences, but the wide diversity of organisms studied in biology has hampered its application to this discipline. Dr Nakagawa and his colleague overcame this hurdle by finding a way to successfully combine comparative research methods with meta-analysis.

Among the most notable work that this innovation has enabled is a study that has largely cleared up several contentious issues around the effect restricting dietary intake has on lengthening an organism’s lifespan.

After comparing data from 145 studies involving 36 species, Dr Nakagawa and co-researchers found that the longevity benefits are greater in females and captive animals and that restricting protein is just as important as consuming fewer calories in extending lifespan.

Dr Nakagawa has published more than 80 papers in peer-reviewed journals and his publications have been cited over 2700 times. He holds editorial positions at eight international journals including Biological Reviews and Behavioral Ecology and his research has been supported by grants from University, the Marsden Fund, Gravida (formerly known as the National Research Centre for Growth and Development), the Humboldt Foundation and the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

Last year, he was awarded a prestigious five-year Rutherford Discovery Fellowship by the Royal Society of New Zealand and received a University of Otago Early Career Award for Distinction in Research in 2011.

Dr Nakagawa says he is delighted to receive the Medal and Award.

“It is very nice when my efforts are recognised in this special way. But my recent research outputs can be really attributable to my colleagues and especially students. In the last five years, I published more than 30 papers with 17 different students, with the students being the first author. So you could say half of my work really is students’ work and I owe them a lot.”

“The Department of Zoology is a wonderful place to work where I have already collaborated and published with eight out of my 23 colleagues. Research is a collaborative endeavour and this is what makes it great fun for me. Building scientific projects goes hand-in-hand with building personal relationships,” Dr Nakagawa says.

The Rowheath Trust was established in 1964 by Carl Smith – whose family lived in the Rowheath area of England – to support the University. Mr Smith received an honorary doctorate from Otago in 1968.


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