HEA : SWS : Dr. Mercedes S. Foster, Zoologist

Dr. Foster received her BA and MA degrees from the University of California at Berkeley, and her PhD in Biology from the University of Sourth Florida in Tampa, in 1974.

Mercedes Foster was born in Oakland, California into an urban- oriented family, her exposure to wildlife and the outdoors being limited to brief periods at summer camp. In her senior year as a zoology (premed) major at the University of California at Berkeley she took a course in Vertebrate Natural History, and her life was changed forever. She abandoned plans for medical school, and after additional graduate studies at Berkeley and at the University of Chicago, received a Ph.D. in biology from the University of South Florida in Tampa.

During the course of her graduate training, Foster completed an advanced course in the Biology of Tropical Vertebrates with the Organization for Tropical Studies in Costa Rica, and as they say, the rest is history. She has been studying birds, plants, and frogs in the tropics ever since. Her work was recognized in 2006 when she was awarded the Alexander Skutch Medal for Excellence in Tropical Ornithology, by the Association of Field Ornithologists (2006).

Her research has focused largely on the evolution of lek behavior in birds, and male-male cooperation in reproduction. This interest expanded into studies of bird-plant interactions (nutrient rewards and seed dispersal), reflecting the fact that numerous lek birds are frugivorous. Many nearctic migrant birds are also frugivorous during migration and in winter which has led to research on feeding ecology and habitat use by migrants and habitat enhancement as a tool for managing passage migrants.

As a result of her experience in the tropics, Foster became extremely concerned about the protection of such areas and their biodiversity, and the training of local scientists and conservationists, and became active in these areas. Her conservation activities include involvement in numerous training workshops, serving as the Scientific Advisor for the National BioInventory Program of Paraguay, a Founder and CoCoordinator of the Latin American Library Enhancement Program, and a Founding Director of the American Bird Conservancy.

Believing that conservation of biodiversity must be grounded in sound qualitative and quantitative knowledge of the biota of an area, she initiated and serves as the Director/Editor of a program to develop and publish a series of handbooks providing Standard Methods for Measuring and Monitoring the Biodiversity of different groups of organisms. The ultimate goal of the program is to ensure that studies are repeatable and that data obtained can be compared across sites and through time. She also has served as Editor of Ornithological Monographs (1977-1985) and on the Editorial Boards of various professional publications.

After holding teaching appointments at the University of South Florida and the University of California, Berkeley, Foster joined the Museum Section of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, located at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., as a Research Zoologist and Curator of Birds, a reflection of her prior experience working in natural museums and with museum specimens. The Museum Section is now part of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center of the U.S. Geological Survey. She focuses on the use of museum specimens for ecological and behavioral projects, a function with significant, untapped potential.

In her spare time (??), she likes to read, garden, hike, travel, and shop at flea markets.

Additional information:


Dr. Foster on her way to a field research site along the Manu River in Manu National Park, Madre Dios, Peru.


Section Photo