Dr Peter Mayhew
Senior Lecturer



2008 - Senior Lecturer Department of Biology, University of York
2007 Vice-Chancellor’s Teaching Award  
2002 York Certificate of Academic Practice  
1998 - 2008 Lecturer Department of Biology, University of York 
1997  MA University of Oxford
1996 - 1998 Royal Society Post-Doctoral Fellow Leiden (Netherlands)
1996 PhD University of London (Imperial College)
1992 BA Zoology  University of Oxford 



My main interest is the evolutionary ecology of insects, and my work combines field and laboratory studies, comparative biology and theory. One focus is the explanation of life history traits through ecological selection pressures and constraints, especially in parasitic wasps which are very species rich and have fascinating biology. I also have significant interests in macroevolution (understanding the diversification of insects) and the ecological basis of conservation biology (devising tools to conserve parasitoids).


During the last 520 million years, warm “greenhouse” phases have been associated with relatively low biodiversity and relatively high extinction and origination rates compared to cooler “icehouse” phases. Tree species richness can be a good surrogate of parasitoid richness for use in nature reserve selection.

Current projects

  • Understanding the constraints on sex ratio adaptation using artificial neural networks. A BBSRC funded project with Simon O’Keefe at York, and Stu West and Dave Shuker at Edinburgh (Funding body: BBSRC)
  • Insect supertrees: A joint BBSRC studentship with Sandie Baldauf (Funding body: BBSRC)
  • Control of glasshouse shoreflies using Aphaereta parasitoids. A studentship funded by NERC and the Stockbridge Technology Centre (Funding body: NERC and the Stockbridge Technology Centre)
  • Reproduction, senescence and longevity in humans. A joint white rose studentship with Virpi Lummaa at Sheffield (Funding body: White Rose)
  • Evolutionary explanations for insect diversity. A NERC CASE studentship with the Natural History Museum, London and Dr Andrew Ross (National Museums of Scotland) (Funding body: NERC)

Research group(s)

Post-doc Hannah Lewis Understanding the constraints on sex ratio adaptation using artificial neural networks
Research Student David Nicholson Evolutionary explanations for insect diversity
Research Student Rob Davis A supertree of insect families
Research Student Luke Tilley Biological control of the greenhouse shorefly using two species of parasitoid
Research Student Duncan Gillespie Reproduction, senescence and longevity in humans.

Available PhD research projects

Constructing a database of insect life histories to understand their evolutionary history (2014-15)

Recent work has shown that a key evolutionary innovation, metamorphosis, has led to an increase in insect diversification rates. However, the mechanism by which this has occurred is still unknown. One possibility is that metamorphosis enabled a shift in basic features of insect life histories, such as increased rate of development, reduction in body size, or expansion of the ecological niche. To test this, and other hypotheses about insect life history evolution, a database on insect life history traits is needed with broad taxonomic coverage, but despite some targeted but taxonomically limited examples within the insects, and despite equivalent databases on e.g. fish and mammals, so far no such resource exists. This project will build on existing taxonomically restricted datasets for insects to provide an ongoing resource for future research on insect life histories, that can be used to address fundamental questions about the evolution of the group. The project would be suitable for a student with an interest or experience in biodiversity, taxonomy or phylogenetics, and data analysis.


Contact details

Dr Peter Mayhew
Senior lecturer
Department of Biology (Area 18)
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: 01904 328644