Richard Prum

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Richard Prum
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma materHarvard University
University of Michigan
Known forEvolution of feathers
Scientific career
FieldsEvolutionary biology, ornithology
InstitutionsPeabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University
Thesis (1989)

Richard O. Prum (born 1961) is William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology, and Head Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University.[1][2]

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 once disputed finding that is now almost universally accepted in the ornithological and evolutionary biology scientific communities.[3][4]

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.[5] He released a book in 2017 on the role of beauty in natural selection: The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World – And Us.[6]


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.[7] 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".[8] In Rothenberg's words, Wallace "had no place for Darwin's love of beauty, caprice, and feminine whim".[9] Prum on the other hand considers art and male sexual display to be "coevolution of the work and its appreciation".[10]



From 1985 onwards, Prum has authored research papers including:[11]

  • Prum, R.O (December 15, 1999), "Development and Evolutionary Origin of Feathers" (PDF), Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B: 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, archived from the original (PDF) on April 9, 2011
  • 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, Bibcode:2001Natur.410..200X, doi:10.1038/35065589, PMID 11242078CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • 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, PMID 12210117
  • Prum, Richard O. & AH Brush (2002). "The evolutionary origin and diversification of feathers" (PDF). 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?" (PDF), Scientific American, 288 (3): 84–93, Bibcode:2003SciAm.288c..84P, doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0303-84, PMID 12616863CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  • Bostwick, Kimberly S. & Richard O. Prum (2005), "Courting Bird Sings with Stridulating Wing Feathers" (PDF), Science, 309 (5735): 736, doi:10.1126/science.1111701, PMID 16051789
  • Geoffrey Edward Hill; Kevin J. McGraw, eds. (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" (PDF). Biology Letters. 6 (1): 128–31. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2009.0524. PMC 2817243. PMID 19710052. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-21.


Prum's 2017 book The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World—and Us was named by The New York Times as one of the 10 Best Books of 2017.[12]


  1. ^ a b Richard O. Prum's profile, Yale University: Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 2003, retrieved July 7, 2010
  2. ^ Jabr, Ferris (January 9, 2019). "How Beauty Is Making Scientists Rethink Evolution - The extravagant splendor of the animal kingdom can't be explained by natural selection alone — so how did it come to be?". The New York Times. Retrieved January 10, 2019.
  3. ^ Horner, John R.; Gorman, James (2009). How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to be Forever. ISBN 9780525951049.
  4. ^ 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 2010See also BNet version
  5. ^ "Ornithologist Is Reshaping Ideas Of How Beauty Evolves" by Veronique Greenwood, Discover Magazine, 05 April 2015
  6. ^ Dobbs, David (September 18, 2017). "Survival of the Prettiest". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  7. ^ Rothenberg, 2011. pp 74–101.
  8. ^ Wallace, Alfred Russel. Nature, 24 July 1890. pp 289–291.
  9. ^ Rothenberg, 2011. p 36.
  10. ^ Rothenberg, 2011. p 101.
  11. ^ Lists of Prum's published works
  12. ^ "The 10 Best Books of 2017". New York Times. 30 November 2017. Retrieved 9 February 2018.


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

External links[edit]