The American Society of Plant Taxonomists (ASPT) has selected Michael Donohue as its 2017 Asa Gray Award recipient. The prestigious award—named after arguably the most influential North American Botanist of the 19th Century—recognizes lifetime achievement in plant systematics.
Donoghue was selected for the award following testimony from numerous nomination letters written by experts across fields of ecology and evolutionary biology. Nominator Erika Edwards (Brown University), attributed the impressive show of support to the overwhelming positive contribution Donoghue has had to systematics, botany, and evolution. “Not to be overly grandiose, but one could imagine him being recognized as one of the core founders of what we now call ‘phylogenetic biology’,” stated Edwards.
Donoghue obtained a B.S. while studying Botany and Plant Pathology from Michigan State University in 1979, then followed this with a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1984. He served on the faculties of San Diego State University (1982–1985), University of Arizona (1985–1992), Harvard University (1992–2000), and Stanford University (Visiting, 1998–1999), before assuming his current post at Yale University in 2000. At Yale, Donoghue has been the Director of Harvard University Herbaria (1995–1999), Director of the Peabody Museum of Natural History (2003–2008), and Director of the Marsh Botanical Garden (2015–present).
Throughout his accomplished career, Donoghue has authored more than 250 scholarly publications and mentored a network of students who now themselves hold respected positions across the globe. He is perhaps best known for his influence on the methodologies employed by systematists to examine the evolutionary histories of plants, including promoting the use of parsimony analyses in the phylogenetic investigation of the origins of angiosperms, estimating rates of molecular evolution, introducing Maximum Likelihood methodologies to estimate diversification rates, using fossils in phylogenetic analysis, and combining molecular and morphological character data.
A consistent message from Donoghue’s nominators is that he is an intellectual leader who has consistently pushed the field forward with the development of new theory, and has been central to the early development of several new disciplines such as ‘evo-devo,’ and others. In his letter, Sir Peter Crane (Yale) calls Donoghue “a major figure of national and international standing in organismal biology, and at the same time he is clearly one of us - part of the community of plant systematists who are fascinated by botanical diversity and what it means for the evolution of life on our planet.” In a joint nomination from Pam Soltis, Doug Soltis, Walter Judd, and Peter Stevens (University of Florida), they stress that even “through all of these years and diverse interests, [Donoghue] continues to make contributions to the systematics of Viburnum, the genus he began to study as a graduate student.” Indeed, he is currently in the process of completing a monograph for the ~165 described species.
Donoghue’s previous honors include election to the U. S. National Academy of Science (2005) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2008). More recently, he received the Dahlgren Prize in Botany from the Royal Physiographic Society of Sweden (2011) and the Lifetime Merit Award from the Botanical Society of America (2014).