Altizer named 2024 Ecological Society of America Fellow

Allyson Mann
Sonia Altizer is the most recent Ecology faculty member to be named an ESA Fellow; past ESA Fellows and Early Career Fellows include 12 current and emeritus Odum School faculty. (Photo: Julia Berliner)

Sonia Altizer, the Martha Odum Distinguished Professor of Ecology, was named a 2024 Fellow by the Ecological Society of America. Altizer is one of nine Fellows recognized for outstanding contributions to ecological research, education, communication and applying ecological knowledge to broader society. They are elected for life.

“ESA has been my core professional community for over 25 years,” she said. “It’s a vibrant, broad and supportive society, and I am honored and grateful to be recognized as a 2024 fellow.”

Altizer is a population ecologist who studies animal behavior, environmental change and pathogen transmission, especially in animals that fly—including birds, bats and butterflies. For the past 30 years, she has studied monarch butterflies and a debilitating disease that infects them to better understand how animal migration affects the spread of pathogens and to investigate how migrations are changing in response to environmental change.

In 2006, Altizer launched and directed the community science-based Project Monarch Health to track the spread of a protozoan parasite, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, in wild monarch populations. Volunteers sample wild monarch butterflies across North America. Student interns at the University of Georgia process samples and data to assign infection status and report findings to volunteers. Although this parasite does not infect humans, it can make butterflies very sick, affecting their ability to fly and shortening their lifespan. Because monarchs are migratory, this can impact their ability to complete their journey down to Mexico, where they spend the winter. 

Altizer has authored and edited three books, published over 125 articles in scholarly journals, advised 26 graduate students, and mentored more than 70 undergraduates in research. She also contributed substantial service and leadership to her unit and university, serving as interim dean for the Odum School of Ecology from 2021-2023, as an associate dean from 2012-2021, and now as Ecology’s current director of Public Service and Outreach. She completed her Ph.D. in ecology at the University of Minnesota, followed by postdoctoral work at Princeton and Cornell University.

“Professor Altizer continues to make fascinating and important contributions to our understanding of host-pathogen interactions and animal migration,” said Mark Hunter, dean of the Odum School of Ecology. “I am delighted that her work has been recognized by the Ecological Society of America.”

Past ESA Fellows and Early Career Fellows include 12 current and emeritus faculty in the Odum School of Ecology.

“I am thrilled to recognize the exceptional contributions of our newly selected Fellows and Early Career Fellows,” said ESA President Shahid Naeem. “Their groundbreaking research, unwavering commitment to mentoring and teaching and advocacy for sound science in management and policy decisions have not only advanced ecological science but also inspired positive change within our community and beyond. We celebrate their achievements and eagerly anticipate the profound impacts they will continue to make in their careers.”

Altizer and the other 2024 Fellows, along with Early Career Fellows, will be recognized during a ceremony at ESA’s annual meeting in August in Long Beach, California.