In recognition of her outstanding research in Mammalogy over a period of at least 10 years, professor of Biology at The University of New Mexico Felisa Smith has received the 2022 C. Hart Merriam Award from the American Society of Mammalogists. Smith, professor at The University of New Mexico, is an expert on animal body size and the constraints on it.

Felisa Smith
Professor Felisa Smith

Merriam served as the first president of the American Society of Mammalogists (ASM). He was also the first chief of the Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy of the United States Department of Agriculture, the precursor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and a founding member of the American Ornithologists' Union, the National Geographic Society, and the American Society of Mammalogists. He is considered the father of mammalogy.

In addition to being the president-elect of the ASM, Smith is the president of the International Biogeography Society, member of the board of directors for the International Federation of Mammologists, and a Fellow of the Paleontological Society.

“ASM is the largest and oldest mammal society in the world, so this is quite an honor. Frankly, given some of recipients in the past, I’m a bit humbled,” Smith said.

According to the American Society of Mammalogists press release, those who nominated Smith said:

  • “To me the defining characteristics of Felisa as a scientist are a unique brilliance and creativity coupled with high productivity. Felisa has a proven history of creative and insightful ideas that have greatly advanced our understanding of mammals. This creativity is evident in her hypotheses about how the world works, but also in the elegant ways she designs tests of those hypotheses.”
  • “At the heart of Felisa’s research record is the exceptional body of work she and her collaborators have amassed on the linkages between megafaunal die-offs, and contemporary community structure and ecosystem function. This has led to at least three major insights germane to both basic and applied ecology. First, wild megafauna impact greenhouse gas emissions, with major implications for the global methane budget and climate warming. Second, the extinction of dinosaurs near the end of the Cretaceous Period likely created opportunity for evolution of maximum body size in mammals. Finally, overkill of Pleistocene mammals triggered wholesale shifts in the organization of extant communities of mammals and plants.”
  • “Felisa Smith deserves the 2022 Merriam Award because her mammalogical studies are unique in crossing boundaries between multiple fields, including ecology, physiology, paleontology, and conservation biology. Moreover, her contributions have demonstrated the importance of studying past as well as present ecosystems; they provide us with quantitative data on what we have lost and what we might lose in the near future given global climate change and human expansion, and why that matters. Through her publications, Felisa and her colleagues have established a global backdrop of macroecological patterns and constraints within which others can place more narrowly focused studies of mammal evolution and ecology. Felisa’s big picture approach to mammalogy truly exemplifies the value of ‘taking the 50,000-foot view.’”
  • “Felisa is a spectacularly accomplished scholar and a truly amazing person. She combines great breadth and depth, powerful quantitative skills in mathematical theory, statistics, and informatics, and demonstrated excellence not only in research but also teaching. ... For me personally, however, what makes Felisa so special is that she is a unique role model: a fearless and creative researcher, a dedicated and influential teacher, a generous and hard-working colleague and collaborator. She embodies the kind of stellar career and balanced personal life that an academic scientist can aspire to. She has been particularly influential for females and minorities, whom she has attracted, supported, and mentored – and many of whom are going on to rewarding and influential careers. If only there were more people like Felisa Smith, science, academia and the world would be a better place.”

As a mammologist, Smith focuses her research interests on paleoecological and evolutionary research—specifically the effects of climatic change and biodiversity loss on mammals. The excellence of her research is reflected in numerous grants from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and NASA.

She has published three books or edited volumes, and over 100 peer-reviewed scientific articles in a variety of premier scientific publications. In her latest book, Mammalian Paleoecology: Using the Past to Study the Present, she examines how animals, plants and ecosystems responded to past perturbations  ̶  be they climate or biodiversity loss  ̶  to gain insights useful for effective conservation and management. Known for her expertise in animal body size, Smith has written and spoken on subjects ranging from teenage Tyrannosaurus rex to fictional sandworms in the movie Dune.