Chris D Thomas

Contact details

Type of addressPostal address
Postal codeYO10 5DD
CountryUnited Kingdom
Address lines
  • Biology
    University of York
    Wentworth Way
    YO10 5DD

Phone: (01904) 328646

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Prof. Chris D Thomas, FRS



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. A short film of his research can be seen here.

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, and awarded an honorary Doctorate from the University of Helsinki in 2014.

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.

Chris is particularly interested in developing projects that identify the ecological and evolutionary characteristics of species that are successful in the Anthropocene, and identifying the processes underlying biodiversity gain during a period of rapid environmental change.

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. A radio interview with Chris Thomas describes some of the Biodiversity gains that have taken place in the Anthropocene.

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

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:


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.

Dr Phil Platts.  Modelling how populations of species survive climate change in microclimatic refugia. He is collaborating with Chris Thomas, Jane Hill and Calvin Dytham at York, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Durham University, the University of East Anglia, and Butterfly Conservation.

Dr Andy Suggitt.  Surveying four northern and montane butterfly species to evaluate the importance of microclimates to their survival.  He is collaborating with Chris Thomas, Jane Hill and Calvin Dytham at York, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Durham University, the University of East Anglia, and Butterfly Conservation. [Arriving February 2016].

Dr Geoff Heard (independent fellow based at the University of Melbourne in Australia). Developing and testing metapopulation models relevant to conservation applications. 

Dr Yvonne Collingham (based at the University of Durham).  Developing microclimate models for northern Britain, to understand the survival of species and communities that rely on cold and wet local conditions. She is collaborating with Chris Thomas, Jane Hill and Calvin Dytham at York, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the University of East Anglia, and Butterfly Conservation.

Dr Alistair Auffret (independent fellow based at the Univerisities of Stockholm, York and Aarhus).  Evaluating historical changes in plant biodiversity and distributions.

PhD students

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.

Jonathan Hiley: Protected areas and range expansion. Joint with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Suzanna Mason: Variation in the responses of insects to climate change. Joint with Jane Hill and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Lynda Sainty: The feasibility of using species-rich upland grasslands for biofuels. Jointly supervised by Prof Simon McQueen Mason at York, and by FERA. 

Christopher Wheatley: Biodiversity under climate change: biogeography, prospects and conservation opportunities.  Jointly supervised by Colin Beale, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the British Trust for Ornithology.

Alfan Rija: Illegal activities in African National Parks.  Jointly supervised by Colin Beale.

Gail Stride: Consequences of habitat conditions and climate change on the distributions and regeneration of tree species in Bornean forest fragments.  Jointly supervised by Jane Hill, Proforest and the University of Liverpool.

Roberto Padovani: The accumulation of regional diversity in the Anthropocene: insects on plants.  Jointly supervised by the Royal Horticultural Society and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.