Prum describes himself as "an evolutionary ornithologist with broad interests in diverse topics," including phylogenetics, behavior, feathers, structural coloration, evolution and development, sexual selection, and historical biogeography.
Prum holds that birds are the living descendants of theropod dinosaurs, a previously highly disputed finding that has increasingly gained broad acceptance in the ornithological and evolutionary biology scientific communities.
Prum received his Ph.D. in 1989 from the University of Michigan.
In his book Survival of the Beautiful, David Rothenberg reflects on Prum's analysis of sexual selection in birds, considering whether female birds are exercising an aesthetic sense when they choose a mate. In a chapter titled "It could be anything", Rothenburg argues Prum's position, that the females' aesthetic choice is essentially arbitrary and decoupled from natural selection: anything the females begin to choose becomes what the males must have if they are to have any offspring. The aesthetic aspect of sexual selection has been debated since the start of Darwinism in the nineteenth century. Prum is following Edward Bagnall Poulton, who was roundly criticised by Alfred Russel Wallace for asserting "female preferences based on aesthetic considerations". In Rothenberg's words, Wallace "had no place for Darwin's love of beauty, caprice, and feminine whim". Prum on the other hand considers art and male sexual display to be "coevolution of the work and its appreciation".
From 1985 onwards, Prum has authored research papers including:
- Prum, R.O (December 15, 1999), "Development and Evolutionary Origin of Feathers", Journal of Experimental Zoology (Molecular and Developmental Evolution) 285 (4): 291–306, doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-010X(19991215)285:4<291::AID-JEZ1>3.0.CO;2-9, PMID 10578107
- Xu, X., H. H. Zhou, and R. O. Prum (2001), "Branched integumental structures in Sinornithosaurus and the origin of feathers", Nature 410 (6825): 200–204, doi:10.1038/35065589, PMID 11242078
- Matthew P. Harris, John F. Fallon, Richard O. Prum (2002), "Shh-Bmp2 signaling module and the evolutionary origin and diversification of feathers", Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution 294 (2): 160–176, doi:10.1002/jez.10157
- Prum, Richard O. & AH Brush (2002). "The evolutionary origin and diversification of feathers". The Quarterly Review of Biology 77 (3): 261–295. doi:10.1086/341993. PMID 12365352.
- Prum, R.O., & Brush, A.H. (March 2003), "Which Came First, the Feather or the Bird?", Scientific American 288 (3): 84–93, doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0303-84, PMID 12616863
- Bostwick, Kimberly S. and Richard O. Prum (2005), "Courting Bird Sings with Stridulating Wing Feathers", Science 309 (5735): 736, doi:10.1126/science.1111701, PMID 16051789
- Geoffrey Edward Hill, Kevin J. McGraw, ed. (2006). "Anatomy, Physics, and Evolution of Structural Colors". Bird Coloration: Mechanisms and measurements. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-01893-8.
- Vinther, Jakob; Derek E. G. Briggs; Julia Clarke; Gerald Mayr; Richard O. Prum (2009). "Structural coloration in a fossil feather". Biology Letters 6 (1): 128–31. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2009.0524. PMC 2817243. PMID 19710052.
- Richard O. Prum's profile, Yale University: Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 2003, retrieved 7 July 2010
- Prum, Richard O (April 2003), "Are current critiques of the theropod origin of birds science? Rebuttal to Feduccia (2002)", The Auk 120 (2): 550–561, doi:10.1642/0004-8038(2003)120[0550:ACCOTT]2.0.CO;2, retrieved 7 July 2010See also BNet version
- Rothenberg, 2011. pp 74–101.
- Wallace, Alfred Russel. Nature, 24 July 1890. pp 289–291.
- Rothenberg, 2011. p 36.
- Rothenberg, 2011. p 101.
- Lists of Prum's published works
- Rothenberg, David. Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science and Evolution. Bloomsbury, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4088-2882-3