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


Areas of expertise

  • Climate change impacts in ecology
  • Conservation
  • Butterfly ecology
  • Biodiversity

PhD opportunities

Available PhD research projects

1. Anthropocene evolution: causes, rates and consequences.

How will species survive the Anthropocene, the period of Earth’s history when humans are becoming a dominant force? Will animals, plants and microbes be able to evolve fast enough to adjust to the new conditions? This PhD project aims to provide the first synthesis of Anthropocene evolution.

Local evolution must be virtually ubiquitous, given that humans have altered the physical environment (e.g., climate) and biological communities throughout the world, altering the selection that is acting on populations. The literature is awash with ‘one off’ examples of recent evolutionary change, but no synthesis exists. The aim is to provide a novel synthesis, using a new analytical approach, informing scientists and policy makers about the likelihood that populations and species will survive through evolutionary change, as opposed to becoming extinct.

The PhD project will bring together information in the literature and online data sources, and then analyse it to reveal the causes and consequences of evolutionary change in the Anthropocene. The student will compare the causes of evolutionary change (e.g. changes in allele frequencies, traits, hybridisation and speciation) with the causes of population declines and extinctions, such as invasions, habitat change, climate change, over-harvesting of wildlife populations, and pollution. Population declines and extinctions can be thought of as a failure to evolve sufficiently fast to prevent these ecological declines. Evolutionary trends (in living species) will be examined for traits associated with extinct species (e.g. large body size).

The project will suit students who wish to understand the impacts of humanity of the Earth’s biodiversity. You will have an enthusiasm for the scientific literature and an aptitude for carrying out cutting-edge analyses. You should be objective, numerical, wish to combine evolutionary and ecological perspectives, and excited about developing and answering fundamental scientific questions.

You will be based at the University of York, where you will be supervised by ecological and evolutionary biologist Professor Chris Thomas FRS. You will be co-supervised by geneticist Dr Ilik Saccheri from the University of Liverpool. You will develop an understanding of global change, evolution, genetics, ecology, and advanced statistical analysis. The project is part of the NERC ACCE PhD programme, which will provide additional support and training.

Potential self/overseas funded projects.

2. The accumulation of species in novel Anthropocene habitats.

The project will examine the diversity of species associated with new habitat types that have been created by humans. The student will develop a model for species accumulation, dependent on the isolation of derived habitats from potential sources of colonists and the time over which the derived habitat has been available for colonisation. The model will be tested by comparing the predicted patterns of diversity with those observed, using a combination of existing data sources and new data collected by the student.

3. The roles of geographic history, phylogeny and functional traits on the impacts of biological invasions on diversity changes of invaded communities and regions.

We know that some biological communites are easier to invade than others, and that some types of organism are more effective invaders than others. However, there is little information available on understanding why some invasions increase and others decrease local and regional diversity. This project will use data from the literature to analyse diversity changes in relation to the attributes of the 'invaded communities', relative the the types of communities from which the invading species arose.