Dr Peter Mayhew
Senior Lecturer

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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.


  • 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)

PhD student Adam Bakewell The evolution of insect life histories and their effect on diversification

Available PhD research projects

The evolution of insect life histories and their effect on diversification (2015-16)

Our understanding of macroevolution forms the background against which current biodiversity change is assessed. The insects make up over half of all described macroscopic species, but most of our knowledge on comparative life history evolution, and its effect on diversification, comes from vertebrates. We aim to elucidate the broad pattern of evolutionary change in basic insect life history traits, their interactions with key innovations such as metamorphosis, and their effect on diversification, to help understand their diversity. We will:  develop a database of insect life history parameters and to populate it with published and original information from representatives of all major insect taxa; test, using recent Bayesian phylogenetic & comparative techniques, if the origin of metamorphosis is associated with directional shifts or changes in the rate of evolution in traits such as development time, body size, and fecundity; reveal the patterns of covariation among life history traits; test the association between life history traits and diversification across taxa in the insects. This will be the first broad assessment of life history evolution across the whole of the insects. The project is suitable for students with an interest in evolutionary ecology, insect biology and comparative biology.

Co directors - Rob Freckleton (Sheffield) and Nick Isaac (CEH)


Contact details

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

Tel: 01904 328644