Caswell selected for Mindel C. Sheps award

May 16, 2014

The Population Association of America (PAA) selected biologist Hal Caswell of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) to receive the 2014 Mindel C. Sheps Award for his contributions to mathematical demography. The PAA is the major professional society devoted to the study of human populations. The prestigious honor is awarded to one scientist biennially on the basis of important contributions to knowledge either in the form of a single piece of work or a continuing record of high achievement.

Caswell, who received the award at the PAA meeting in Boston, on May 2, 2014, was cited for his lifetime contributions to mathematical demographic analysis, especially his work on matrix population models, spanning studies of plants, animals, and humans. His results have had a great influence on such diverse areas as life history theory, conservation biology and climate studies, patterns of longevity and reproduction in human populations, and the evolution of aging.

"It is certainly fitting that Hal has received this award. He literally 'wrote the book' on matrix population models, and has applied these and other kinds of mathematical models to a variety of important ecological questions," said Mark Hahn, chair of WHOI's Department of Biology. "His work has had broad impact, not just in marine science but also in conservation biology generally as well as in evolutionary biology."

The award was created in honor of Mindel C. Sheps, MD (1913-1973), an expert in statistics who made fundamental contributions to the demographic and biological aspects of fertility through her research on the impact of social factors in public health.

"I feel very honored to be recognized by PAA in this way because my work on populations has often focused on species other than humans," Caswell said. "But, the mathematics of population is more general than the species we study. This award is a recognition of that."

Some of Caswell's recent research has focused on developing models for studying the population dynamics and demography of threatened species, such as polar bears. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey turned to Caswell and colleague Christine Hunter of the University of Alaska to advise a team conducting an extensive study of Artic polar bears in 2007. Using new models and analysis, Caswell and Hunter found that the declining habitat of polar bears in the Artic is dramatically affecting survival, breeding, and population growth.

The U.S. Department of Interior recognized Caswell's contribution to the international polar bear science team with a Unit Citation Award for Excellence of Service. In 2008, he was selected as the first recipient of the Per Brinck Oikos Award, which recognizes extraordinary and important contributions to the science of ecology. Caswell also received the Ecological Research Award from the Ecological Society of Japan and the ISI Highly Cited Researcher in Ecology/Environment Award from Thomson Scientific in 2007.

Originally from California, Caswell was raised in Michigan. He earned all of his degrees at Michigan State University: a bachelor's in zoology in 1971 and a doctorate in zoology in 1974. After seven years on the faculty at the University of Connecticut, Caswell came to WHOI in 1981. He is a fellow of WHOI's Ocean Life Institute and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Caswell is also Professor of Mathematical Demography and Ecology at the University of Amsterdam, an Honorary Professor of Biodemography at Southern Denmark University, and a Distinguished Research Scholar at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany.

Caswell has authored or co-authored over 170 papers, as well as several books on population dynamics and demography. He is a member of the Ecological Society of America, the British Ecological Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a member of the Ecological Society of America, the British Ecological Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Population Association of America, and the Evolutionary Demography Society.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean's role in the changing global environment. For more information, please visit

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

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