Jim Costa is an evolutionary biologist, entomologist, and Darwin and Wallace scholar. He is Executive Director of the Highlands Biological Station in Highlands, North Carolina, and Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. An all-around field naturalist, Jim has studied insect ecology and social behavior from the southern Blue Ridge of North Carolina to Central and South America.
As an entomologist Jim is a long-time Research Associate in entomology at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, and is the author of numerous scientific research papers and the book The Other Insect Societies (Harvard University Press, 2006). In more recent years Jim’s research and writing have largely focused on Darwin, Wallace, and the history of evolutionary thinking. In 2009 Harvard published The Annotated Origin, Jim’s annotated edition of On the Origin of Species, designed to guide readers through the historical context, structure, and content of Darwin’s masterwork. His subsequent two books pay homage to Alfred Russel Wallace, renowned scientific traveler, founder of evolutionary biogeography, and co-discoverer with Darwin of the principle of natural selection: On the Organic Law of Change (Harvard, 2013) is an annotated transcription of Wallace’s “species notebook” from his southeast Asian travels, and Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species (Harvard, 2014) examines the intellectual trajectories and relationship of these two giants of evolutionary biology as they independently worked on the mystery of species origins. In 2017 Jim was awarded the silver Wallace Medal by the London-based Alfred Russel Wallace Memorial Fund for his many contributions to Wallace scholarship.
Jim’s book Darwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory (W. W. Norton, 2017) was a 2018 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize finalist. Darwin’s Backyard is a biography of Darwin seen through the lens of his family life and working method — especially his life-long passion for “experimentising.” Jim most recently co-edited An Alfred Russel Wallace Companion (2019 Chicago).
Jim has held fellowships-in-residence at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (2004-2005), the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study in Germany (2012-2013), and the Humanities Institute of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at the New York Botanical Garden (2019). In 2017, he was awarded the Alfred Russel Wallace Medal for his contributions to Wallace scholarship and is currently serving as a Trustee of the Charles Darwin Trust. He teaches biogeography and the history of evolutionary biology, lectures widely in the US and Europe, is a regular travel program leader/lecturer for the Harvard Alumni Association, and for many years co-instructed Harvard’s Darwin summer program at the University of Oxford.