Professor Spencer C. H. Barrett

Professor Barrett obtained his Hons. B.Sc. from the University of Reading, UK in 1971 and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, USA in 1977. He joined the University of Toronto in 1977 as an Assistant Professor and was promoted to Full Professor in 1986. He currently holds a Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Evolutionary Genetics (awarded 2001; renewed 2008) in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology where he leads an internationally renowned research group in plant evolutionary biology. He has trained 10 M.Sc, and 15 Ph.D. students, and 13 Post-Doctoral Fellows during his tenure at Toronto.

Professor Barrett is one of the world’s leading authorities on the reproductive biology and genetics of flowering plants. Among his original findings are the first experimental demonstration of the selective purging of deleterious genes following inbreeding, the first genetic estimates of effective population size, and the most comprehensive evidence for the role of genetic drift in initiating adaptive changes in plant mating. He also demonstrated for the first time that self-fertilization involves hidden costs because of lost mating opportunities through male fertility, a finding with profound implications for functional interpretation of plant reproductive traits. Professor Barrett provided the first experimental evidence in support of the Darwinian hypothesis for the adaptive significance of tristyly, and solved the long-standing puzzle of the evolution and function of mirror-image flowers. These contributions have rejuvenated reproductive biology making it one of the most active areas within ecology and evolutionary biology. In addition to his studies on plant reproduction, Professor Barrett is also an internationally recognized expert on the ecology and genetics of plant invasions and the environmental consequences of genetically modified crops.

Professor Barrett has received numerous awards in recognition of his pre-eminence as both an evolutionary biologist and plant scientist. He is an NSERC EWR Steacie Memorial Fellowship winner (1988) and a recipient of the highest awards given by the Botanical Society of America (Merit Award – 2003) and the Canadian Botanical Association (Lawson Medal – 2006). More recently, he was awarded the inaugural Premier’s Discovery Award in Life Science and Medicine (2007) by the Government of Ontario for his “leadership role in building a culture of research and innovation in the Province of Ontario”. In 2008 he received the prestigious Sewall Wright Award given by the American Society of Naturalists for a “senior, but still active, investigator who has made major contributions to the conceptual unification of the biological sciences”. The impact of Professor Barrett’s research was recognized by the Swedish Academy of Science in 1999 when he was chosen as Distinguished Evolutionary Biologist (with Richard Dawkins) to present his work with the Crafoord Laureates at the Crafoord Prize Symposium. Finally, Professor Barrett is one of the few Canadian biologists, outside the health sciences, to be elected to both the Royal Society of Canada (1998) and the Royal Society of London (2004).

Professor Barrett has served on the editorial boards of many major international journals, including Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Ser. B, which he currently edits. In addition to serving as a former Chair of the NSERC Grant Selection Committee in Ecology and Evolution (GSC 18), he also served a 4-year term on the International Review Board of the German Science Foundation (DFG). Professor Barrett is an Adjunct Professor at Washington State University, USA and Distinguished Guest Professor at Wuhan University (China). He has published over 200 peer-reviewed articles, edited three influential books, and is one of the most frequently cited authors in plant evolutionary biology with a total citation count of 6517, an h-index of 42, and an average citation per paper of 33.4 (Jan. 5, 2008, ISI Web of Science). His work is often reported in the national and international media, and he is one of the few Canadians invited to write articles for the prestigious magazine Scientific American.

During his 31-year tenure at the University of Toronto, Professor Barrett has not only excelled as a scholar but also as an outstanding teacher, mentor, and communicator of science. He has taught first-year biology throughout his career and for the past 12 years has been the team leader of BIO 150 (Organisms in their Environment), the largest class in Canada with ~1800 students. For these contributions he received an Outstanding Teaching Award (1992) from the Faculty of Arts and Science, and the Northrop Frye Award (1999) “for linking teaching and research” in the classroom.