ecology and evolution h272

Ecology and Evolution

To understand the past, present and future of biological diversity, we research at scales ranging from genome organisation to global change biology.  We combine field, laboratory and theoretical studies to address fundamental questions and societal needs related to tackling the challenges of environmental change.


Research in Ecology and Evolution addresses all three global challenges that the Department of Biology has prioritised. Below are examples of how our research benefits society and you will find many more on our impact pages.

Sustainable food
and fuel
Impacting on health and disease

Oil Palm

Reducing biodiversity loss in oil palm plantations

comma butterfly feat

Species’ responses to climate change

P-aeruginosa colony

Rapid bacterial evolution in cystic fibrosis lung infections

Examples of Ecology and Evolution projects

Understanding the causes of variation in the responses of species to climate change.  Led from York, with collaborators at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Rothamsted Research, researchers are examining the role of habitat availability, local climate variation, and the ecological traits of species in determining patterns of range change in response to climate warming. 

Interactions between facultative bacterial symbionts of insects and their effect on the ecology and evolution of their host.  Bacterial endosymbionts are common in insects and affect many ecologically important traits. Researchers are investigating whether multiple species of symbionts compete or cooperate inside the same insect individual and how this affects the host’s ability to feed on certain plants and defend against natural enemies.

SkyGas: Development of a new technique for determining watershed/airshed gas fluxeswill be the first cable operated trace gas monitoring platform, capable of monitoring trace gas fluxes from both terrestrial and aquatic systems. It is designed by staff in Biology, Chemistry and Electronics, and a prototype is on the new Heslington East Nature Study Area.

Academic staff associated with Ecology and evolution

Dr Colin Beale, Lecturer: examines spatial variation in ecological processes, from patterns and processes that shape species distributions, to global patterns in biodiversity.

Dr Kanchon Dasmahapatra, Senior lecturer: Speciation in heliconiine and ithomiine butterflies; Müllerian mimicry; high-throughput sequencing; genome-wide patterns of divergence, adaptive introgression, and genomic exchange between species.

Professor Calvin Dytham: evolution of dispersal in dynamic and structured habitats including range expansions and invasions; evolution of ageing and life history strategies using individual-based models.

Dr Julia Ferrari, Senior lecturer: ecological and evolutionary aspects of plant-herbivore-natural enemy interactions and interactions with bacterial symbionts.

Professor Alastair H Fitter, CBE, FRS: plant and microbial behaviour in a changing world, including belowground ecology and functional ecology of roots and mycorrhizal symbioses.

Dr Paul Fogg, Sir Henry Dale FellowThe impact of mobile genetic elements on bacterial evolution; The role of gene transfer agents (GTAs) in the spread of antibiotic resistance and virulence genes; Fundamental mechanisms of GTA activity; Applications of bacteriophages and bacteriophage-derived proteins.

Dr Daniel Franks, Lecturer, joint appointment with Computer Science: Computational models of ecology and evolution; network analysis, with a focus on animal association networks and network sampling; predator-prey interactions, with a focus on warning signals and mimicry. Based in YCCSA.

Dr Ville Friman, Lecturer in Evolutionary Biology: Experimental evolution, Predator-prey interactions, Host-parasite interactions, coevolution, virulence, competition cooperation, community ecology, trade-offs, eco-evolutionary dynamics, antibiotic resistance, ecosystem functioning, phage therapy, rhizobiomes

Professor Sue Hartley, Director of York Environmental Sustainability Institute: interactions between plants and insect and mammalian herbivores as well as fungi and parasitic plants.

Dr Thorunn Helgason, Senior lecturer: factors affecting  mycorrhizal biodiversity, including host plant effects and soil environment, and effects on fungal fitness and evolution.

Professor Jane K Hill: effects of habitat degradation and climate change on biodiversity.

Dr Angela Hodge, Reader: plant-soil-microbe interactions particularly those involving mycorrhizal fungi and nutrient cycling in soil systems.

Professor Phil Ineson: the role of soils in global change, the application of stable isotope approaches to ecological research, and measuring fluxes of greenhouse gases.

Dr Daniel Jeffares; Lecturer, genome evaluation; high-throughput sequencing; population genomics; fission yeast; parasite genomics; quantitative genetics.

Professor Richard Law, Emeritus: Plant ecology, community dynamics and evolutionary ecology.

Dr Benjamin Lichman, Lecturer: the molecular and evolutionary origins of plant specialised metabolism.

Dr Peter Mayhew, Senior Lecturer: the ecology and evolution of insect diversity, life history traits, and behaviour; historical and ecological explanations for species richness; oviposition behaviour in insects, and the ecology of insect communities.

Dr Jon W Pitchford, Senior Lecturer: joint appointment with Mathematics: Stochastic and nonlinear dynamical systems and statistical modelling in ecology and evolution; marine ecosystems and fisheries; network stability and complexity; toxicology; epidemiology; plankton dynamics. Based in YCCSA.

Dr Kelly Redeker, Lecturer: soil-plant-atmosphere system for exchange of nitrogen, sulfur, chlorine, bromine and iodine.

Dr Elva Robinson, Lecturer in ecology: organisation of ant societies; theoretical and individual-based modelling of community-level behaviour; Radio-Frequency IDentification (RFID) technology; robustness and resilience in networks; self-organisation and decentralised control in complex systems. Based inYCCSA.

Professor Chris D Thomas, FRS: the ecological and evolutionary impacts of human activities on biological systems.

Professor Mark Williamson, Emeritus: Macroecology, biological invasions and the impact of introduced species. 

Dr Jamie Wood, Lecturer: joint appointment with Mathematics: complexity and emergence in biologically inspired models; computational and statistical mechanics methodologies; Daisyworld; quantitative genetics; investigating flocking and herding behaviour in animals, and network rewiring; quorum sensing and biofilm formation; biochemical network modelling. Based in YCCSA.

Professor J Peter W Young: population genetics, molecular phylogeny and comparative genomics of rhizobia and other bacteria; molecular ecology and diversity of mycorrhizal fungi; bioinformatics and environmental genomics; biologically-inspired computing.

 Recent news

 Coelites epiminthia (x70)

Movement of rainforest butterflies restricted by oil palm plantations


Maintaining connectivity in tropical agricultural landscapes

 Hermit crab

Effect of global warming on marine diversity

 Research Centres linked to Ecology and Evolution

York Environmental Sustainability Institute (YESI)


York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA)

Examples of high profile publications

Bacterial genospecies that are not ecologically coherent: population genomics of Rhizobium leguminosarum.  Young et al.  2015 Open Biology

High-throughput sequencing reveals inbreeding depression in a natural population.  Dasmahapatra et al.  2015 PNAS

Hydrologically driven ecosystem processes determine the distribution and persistence of ecosystem-specialist predators under climate change.  Thomas, Carroll et al.  2015 Nature Communications

Non-native plants add to the British flora without negative consequences for native diversity.  Thomas et al.  2015 PNAS

Abundance changes and habitat availability drive species’ responses to climate change.  Mair et al.  2014 Nature climate change

Evolutionary resurrection of flagellar motility via rewiring of the nitrogen regulation system.  Johnson et al. 2015 Science