2016 Honorary Fellow of the ATBC: Dr. C.V. Savitri Gunatilleke (#ATBC16)

screenshot-2016-09-29-12-51-31In 1963, the Council of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation established the election of Honorary Fellows as ‘persons of long distinguished service to tropical biology’. This is the highest award given by the Association: to date more than 80 Honorary Fellows from over 15 countries have been elected by the Council. On behalf of The Honorary Fellow Nomination Committee, we present the 2016 Honorary Fellow: Dr. C.V. Savitri Gunatilleke.

Professor Gunatilleke entered the University of Ceylon, Colombo in 1965 before moving to the Peradeniya campus in 1967. She completed her undergraduate career in 1969 obtaining First Class Honors in the Special Degree in Botany – a rare feat at that time. In 1971 she was awarded a Commonwealth scholarship and obtained her M.Sc. in General Ecology and Ph.D. in Tropical Forest Ecology and Conservation from the University of Aberdeen. Her dissertation on the ecology and conservation of endemic tree species is widely considered a land-mark in quantitative ecological research in Sri Lanka. It also laid the foundation for an increased global awareness of the biogeographic and evolutionary significance of the Sri Lankan flora.

After completing her doctorate Dr. Gunatilleke joined the Department of Botany at the University of Peradeniya, where she progressed rapidly from Lecturer to Professor of Botany. Over the course of three decades her research program addressed fundamental questions in tropical forest ecology and conservation, and as a result of her efforts the Sinharaja Forest Reserve in the wet zone of Sri Lanka has become one of the foremost sites for tropical ecological research in Asia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The period spanning her career was marked by political turbulence in Sri Lanka that sometimes inhibited normal academic activity; notwithstanding those difficulties Professor Gunatilleke maintained her complete commitment to field-based teaching of botany and ecology and always placed her students’ interests at the forefront of her professional life. Her more recent research on conservation, management, and the reproductive ecology of tropical trees has inspired a new generation of South Asian ecologists. To date she has written over forty peer-reviewed papers, 30 book chapters, and five books.

Professor Gunatilleke’s stellar research has been recognized multiple times by the Sri Lankan government, which awarded her Presidential Research Awards in 2000, 2001, and 2004-2006, as well as the National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka’s Merit Award for Scientific Excellence in the field of Environment and Biodiversity in 2006. She is also a co-recipient of the prestigious UNESCO Sultan Qaboos Prize for Environmental Preservation, the Silver Jubilee Award from Sweden’s International Foundation for Science, and the Woman of Achievement Award for Science from the Zonta 1 Club (Colombo, Sri Lanka). She retired from the University of Peradeniya in 2010 as a Senior Professor after having  taught and inspired successive generations of botany students, including most of the current faculty of her department. The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation is honored to name Dr. C.V. Savitri Gunatilleke the 2016 Honorary Fellow.

The text above is based on the nomination materials provided by Prof. Sandun Senarath and Prof. David Burslem.  A remarkable series of photos spanning Dr. Gunatilleke’s life has been prepared by Professsor Hiran Amarasekera of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.