Professor Chris D Thomas



2012 -   Fellow of the Royal Society
2004 - Professor Department of Biology, University of York
1999 - 2004 Professor School of Biology, University of Leeds
1995 - 1999 Research Fellow School of Biology, University of Leeds
1992 - 1995 Lecturer School of Biological Sciences, University of Birmingham
1990 - 1992 Post-doc CPB, Imperial College at Silwood Park, London
1988 - 1989 Post-doc DSIR/University of Canterbury, New Zealand
1988 PhD University of Texas at Austin, USA
1984 MSc University College of North Wales, Bangor
1981  BA Cambridge University




Chris Thomas is an ecologist and evolutionary biologist, interested in the dynamics of biological change in the Anthropocene.  He works on the responses of species to climate change, habitat fragmentation, and biological invasions. He is interested in developing conservation strategies appropriate for a period of rapid environmental change. His research has concentrated on insects and insect-plant interactions, but he is interested in a wide range of taxonomic groups, especially butterflies, birds and plants.  Chris and his research group have: a) identified that climate change represents a major extinction threat to species, b) documented recent shifts in the distributions of species, including tropical insects, to higher elevations and towards the poles, and c) found that species have moved their geographic distributions furthest in places where the climate has warmed the most. He has also d) discovered that species are changing their associations with different habitat types as the climate changes, and evolving increased dispersal as they move northwards, and e) contributed to the development of conservation policies for biodiversity.

In addition to his scientific publications, Chris has been a co-editor of nine scientific journals and his work has been quoted in the media in most countries in the world. His research has influenced the development of policy in the areas of climate change and habitat fragmentation. Chris received the Scientific Medal of the Zoological Society of London in 1998, the President’s Medal of the British Ecological Society in 2001, the Marsh Award for Conservation Biology in 2004, and the Marsh Award for Climate Change Research in 2011. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2012.

Current projects

Research in the group focuses on the ecological and evolutionary impacts of human activities on biological systems as a means to tackle both theoretical questions in ecology and issues relevant to the management of biodiversity. Please get in touch if you would like us to host your application for a fellowship in this area. Our current projects fall within the following topics.

a) The separate and combined impacts of climate change, land use patterns, non-native species and persecution on the distributions of species, and on population- and species-level extinctions.

b) Assessing how humans are affecting biodiversity patterns at different temporal and spatial scales, aiming to quantify gains in diversity as well as losses.

c) Developing conservation strategies that will be appropriate and robust in the context of climate change, the arrival of non-native species, and other environmental drivers of change.

Research group(s)

Chris and members of his research group belong to the Ecology and Evolution research focus within the Department of Biology, and also to the inter-departmental York Environmental Sustainability Institute.  Chris Thomas’ research group shares space with Prof Jane Hill’s group, supporting additional PhD students and post-docs to those listed below:




Post Doctoral Fellow Dr George Palmer Understanding why species vary so much in their rates of response to climate change, focussing on butterflies and moths. She is collaborating with Chris Thomas and Jane Hill at York, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Rothamsted Research and Butterfly Conservation.
Post Doctoral Fellow Dr Geoff Heard Developing and testing metapopulation models relevant to conservation applications. Geoff is collaborating with the University of Melbourne in Australia, and with Dr Jenny Hodgson at the University of Liverpool.
Post Doctoral Fellow Dr Kevin Walker (Botanical Society of the British Isles).  Regular visitor to the lab, where he co-supervises two current PhD students.
PhD Student Björn Beckmann The role of ecological and evolutionary processes in the range expansion of grasshoppers and crickets. Joint with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
PhD Student Alex Bell Changes to plant biodiversity in Britain. Joint with the Botanical Society of the British Isles.
PhD Student Jonathan Hiley Protected areas and range expansion. Joint with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
PhD Student Alison Jukes The establishment of non-native plant species in Britain. Joint with the Botanical Society of the British Isles.
PhD Student Louise Mair The roles of habitat availability, dispersal and abundance changes in determining range shifts. Jointly supervised by Jane Hill.
PhD Student Suzanna Mason Variation in the responses of insects to climate change. Joint with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
PhD Student Lynda Sainty The feasibility of using species-rich upland grasslands for biofuels.   Jointly supervised by Prof Simon McQueen Mason at York, and by Fera.

Available PhD research projects

Understanding the dynamics of biodiversity (2015-16)

A paradox in ecology is that the number of species is increasing in many countries across the world, despite the fact that the total number of species on Earth is declining.  The increase is being generated as a result of many species establishing in new regions, where they predominantly occupy novel environments created by human activities; and hence they can live in the region without displacing native species.  Far less is known about the ecological and evolutionary ‘rules’ that govern this accumulation of species in novel environments than about the causes and patterns of extinction of species.  

This PhD project will tackle the issue of diversity gains.  This is essential because all biological communities are in flux across the world as a result of many human-caused changes to the environment.  Any management decisions need to consider gains as well as losses of species, whereas the current emphasis is almost exclusively on losses.  The project will use insects on introduced plants as the ‘model’ system, where each introduced plant can be thought of as a replicated novel environment (that would not exist in the region if people had not introduced them). 

The project will examine what factors determine how many and which insect species are associated with each introduced plant.  The project provides considerable scope, involving analysis of existing data bases, practical field work, and development of a new citizen science project; enabling the student to develop skills spanning several areas of modern ecology.  It will suit people with good statistical skills, a fondness of the outdoors, and excellent communication skills.  The CASE project will be co-supervised by Chris Thomas at the University of York, where the student will be registered and primarily based, David Roy at the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and Andy Salisbury at the Royal Horticultural Society. 

Co directors: Dr David Roy (NERC CEH), Dr Andrew Salisbury (Royal Horticultural Society)


Professor Chris D Thomas

Contact details

Chris D Thomas
Department of Biology (Area 18)
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: 01904 328646