2011 Balzan Prize for Theoretical Biology or Bioinformatics
Russell Lande was born in 1951 in the United States and studied at the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Chicago before completing a PhD at Harvard University. He has held faculty positions at the Universities of Chicago, Oregon and California, San Diego, and since 2007 has been based at Imperial College London where he holds a Royal Society Research Professorship. He is distinguished for his work in theoretical population biology, both population genetics and population dynamics, and for its applications in conservation biology. Much of his early research concerned the population genetics of quantitative traits determined by the influence of large numbers of genes and environmental effects. Before Russell Lande’s work, most quantitative genetic theory had been developed in the applied context of plant and animal breeding. Russell Lande developed the modern theory for studying quantitative traits in natural populations, in particular showing how natural selection acting on multiple correlated traits might be modelled. He used this framework to make important advances in a number of areas of evolutionary biology including life history evolution, phenotypic plasticity, inbreeding depression and the interaction of natural selection and genetic drift. He showed how sexual selection might produce exaggerated characters through a positive feedback runaway process. His more recent work has blended population genetics and population dynamics and has focussed on different types of stochastic processes in finite-sized populations and how it influences the risks of extinction. This work has had numerous applications, and is the basis for the modern IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List Criteria for classifying relative extinction risk while his expert testimony has underlain the way the US Endangered Species Act has been interpreted and implemented.