Richard Prum

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Richard Prum
Born c. 1961[citation needed]
Citizenship United States
Fields Evolutionary biology, ornithology
Institutions Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University
Alma mater University of Michigan
Thesis  (1989)
Known for Evolution of feathers

Richard O. Prum is William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology, and Head Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University.[1]

Life and work[edit]

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.[1]

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.[2][3]

Prum grew up in rural Vermont and took his bachelor's degree at Harvard in 1983, and received his Ph.D. in 1989 from the University of Michigan. After gradually losing his hearing throughout the early 1990s due to illness, Prum moved from primarily doing field work to conducting research on plumage pigmentation, feather evolution, and Darwin's sexual selection theory.[4] His book The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory Of Mate Choice Shapes The Animal World – And Us, was released in May 2017.[5]


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.[6] 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".[7] In Rothenberg's words, Wallace "had no place for Darwin's love of beauty, caprice, and feminine whim".[8] Prum on the other hand considers art and male sexual display to be "coevolution of the work and its appreciation".[9]



From 1985 onwards, Prum has authored research papers including:[10]


  1. ^ a b Richard O. Prum's profile, Yale University: Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 2003, retrieved 7 July 2010 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Prum, Richard O (April 2003), "Are current critiques of the theropod origin of birds science? Rebuttal to Feduccia (2002)" (PDF), The Auk, 120 (2): 550–561, doi:10.1642/0004-8038(2003)120[0550:ACCOTT]2.0.CO;2, retrieved 7 July 2010 See also BNet version
  4. ^ "Ornithologist Is Reshaping Ideas Of How Beauty Evolves" by Veronique Greenwood, Discover Magazine, 05 April 2015
  5. ^
  6. ^ Rothenberg, 2011. pp 74–101.
  7. ^ Wallace, Alfred Russel. Nature, 24 July 1890. pp 289–291.
  8. ^ Rothenberg, 2011. p 36.
  9. ^ Rothenberg, 2011. p 101.
  10. ^ Lists of Prum's published works


  • Rothenberg, David. Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science and Evolution. Bloomsbury, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4088-2882-3

External links[edit]