2005 Kyoto Prize Laureates

Basic Sciences

Biological Sciences(Evolution, Behavior, Ecology, Environment)

Simon Asher Levin

/  Ecologist

1941 -

Professor at Princeton University

Commemorative Lectures

Building on Strengths and Finding One’s Purpose


11 /11 Fri

Place:Kyoto International Conference Center


Biosphere as a Complex Adaptive System


11 /12 Sat

13:00 - 17:00

Place:Kyoto International Conference Center

Achievement Digest

Establishment of the field of spatial ecology and the proposition of the biosphere as a "complex adaptive system

Professor Levin developed diverse methods of analysis for the spatial aspects of population and ecosystem processes, and founded a field of “spatial ecology”. He promoted the view that the biosphere is a “complex adaptive system”, and made many fundamental contributions to biological conservation and ecosystem management.


A vast number of species live on Earth. In ecology we regard them as parts of a larger system called an ecosystem or the biosphere and analyze fluctuations in their population size, biomass, and material flows. Species however, have diverse life history patterns adapted to their own environments. They engage in interactions such as competition, cooperation, predation, parasitism, or symbiosis with other species and often modify their physical environment. These ecological processes show a range of spatial and temporal patterns occurring on different spatial, temporal, and organizational scales. To properly understand the functioning of an ecosystem or the biosphere, we need to consider different dynamics at vastly different scales and the relationship between different scales. This is the concept of “the biosphere as a complex adaptive system” promoted by Professor Levin.

Professor Levin emphasized the importance of spatial heterogeneity of the environment and the spatial patterns of population and ecosystem processes. In 1974 Professor Levin, with Dr. R. Paine, proposed the “patch dynamics model” which later became the basis of many current ecological models for marine and terrestrial ecosystems. He also demonstrated that high species diversity of competitors, as observed for example in rocky intertidal communities or in tropical rain forests, can be maintained by recurrent disturbances. Since these early achievements, Professor Levin developed numerous analytical methods to understand different aspects of spatial patterns and founded the field of “spatial ecology”.

Professor Levin pointed out that ecosystems and the biosphere are not super-organisms as previously suggested but complex adaptive systems with their apparent regularity emerging from self-organization processes. From this perspective Professor Levin proposed many methods in biological conservation and ecosystem management, making fundamental contributions to environmental science.

In his book “Fragile Dominion” published in 1999 and aimed at the general reader, Professor Levin comprehensively surveyed his outstanding research findings without any mathematical formula. In this book he discussed the future of the Earth’s biosphere based on his concept of the biosphere as a complex adaptive system. His profound philosophy calls for additional thought and courage to cope with many difficult environmental problems we face. From that perspective, his contribution to ecology and environmental science is extremely important.

For these reasons, the Inamori Foundation is pleased to present the 2005 Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences to Professor Simon Asher Levin.


Born in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.
Johns Hopkins University, B.A. (Mathematics)
University of Maryland, Ph.D. (Mathematics)
Assistant Professor, Cornell University
Associate Professor, Cornell University
Charles A. Alexander Professor of Biological Sciences, Cornell University
Director, Ecosystems Research Center, Cornell University
Director, Center for Environmental Research, Cornell University
George M. Moffett Professor of Biology, Princeton University
Director, Princeton Environmental Institute, Princeton University
Director, Center for Biocomplexity, Princeton University
Selected Awards and Honors
MacArthur Award, Ecological Society of America
Okubo Lifetime Achievement Award, Japanese Association for Mathematical Biology/Society for Mathematical Biology
A. H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
National Academy of Sciences, American Philosophical Society, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Selected Works
Disturbance, patch formation, and community structure, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A. 71: 2744-47 (with Paine, R. T.)、1974.
The problem of pattern and scale in ecology, Ecology 73: 1943-1967、1992.
Mathematical and computational challenges in population biology and ecosystem science, Science 275: 334-343 (with Grenfell, B. T., Hastings, A. and Perelson, A. S.)、1997.
Fragile Dominion: Complexity and the Commons. Perseus Books Group, Reading, MA., 1999.
Strategic interactions in multi-institutional epidemics of antibiotic resistance, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A. 102: 3153-3158 (Smith, D. L. , Levin, S. A. and Laxminarayan, R.)、2005.

Profile is at the time of the award.