SFI Science Board Member Simon Levin (Princeton University) was recognized by the BBVA Foundation for his essential mathematical contributions to the field of spatial ecology. 

This fourteenth edition of the Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Ecology and Conservation also celebrates Lenore Fahrig and Steward Pickett for their individual contributions to the field. All three laureates are recognized for “incorporating the spatial dimension into ecosystem research, in the sense of landscape and its multiple scales, and bringing it to bear in the management of ‘coupled human-natural systems.’”

Beginning in the 1970s, Levin worked to develop mathematical theories and models that could account for how species interact with and through the physical space they inhabit. The announcement highlights Levin’s paper “The Problem of Pattern and Scale in Ecology,” published in 1992 in Ecology, as a turning point when ecological studies began to integrate different spatial scales, from local phenomena to global processes. 

“Levin . . . has equipped ecology with the mathematical tools to identify patterns recurring across different spatial scales,” writes the BBVA Foundation in the announcement. 

“The mathematical theories such as I do in my work have been fundamental to . . . a range of environmental problems,” says Levin in a video response to the award. Everything from loss of biodiversity to climate change to the current COVID-19 pandemic “are complex adaptive systems in which individual actions by people, in particular, affect the environment. . . . In order to address these problems, we need theoretical foundations.”  

Read the full announcement, including video responses from Levin and the other laureates.