Dr Gavin Thomas

Email: gavin.thomas@sheffield.ac.uk


  • 01/2015 – present: Senior Research Fellow and Royal Society URF, University of Sheffield
  • 10/2013 – present: Royal Society University Research Fellow, University of Sheffield
  • 03/2013 – 10/2013: Research Fellow, University of Sheffield
  • 2010-02/2013: NERC Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Bristol/University of Sheffield
  • 2006-2010: Research Associate, NERC Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College
  • 2005-2006: Post-doc, University of Birmingham
  • 2001-2004: PhD, University of Bath
  • 2000-2001: MSc Palaeobiology, University of Bristol
  • 1995-1998: BSc Ecology & Environmental Management , Cardiff University

My current research focuses on modelling the diversification of species and traits at a macroevolutionary scale. I am particularly interested in how we can use information on the phylogenetic relationships among species to infer how present day biodiversity has arisen over time and ask:

  • How and why do lineages and traits diversify?
  • What are the consequences of varying tempo and mode of lineage and trait evolution for temporal and spatial patterns of diversity

This work is funded by an ERC Consolidator grant and a Royal Society University Research Fellowship. More about the groups current work can be found on the Projects page.

Past work


redphalaropeMy PhD research, supervised by Tamás Székely, focused on sexual conflict over parental care in shorebirds. Shorebirds are great for studying parental care and breeding systems because they have such a range of behaviour across species. The photo is a red phalarope, a polyandrous species where the male provides all of the parental care. Within only a few metres of a red phalarope nest in the Arctic tundra you could find mongamous dunlin or polygynous pectoral sandpipers.

The role of sexual conflict has until recently received scant attention in the context of parental care but offers a fresh insight into the evolution of breeding systems. Sexual conflict theory predicts a feedback between parental care and mating behaviour; using the first complete supertree phylogeny of shorebirds and a maximum likelihood comparative method, I found that such a feedback does exist. Furthermore, the outcomes of conflict over care are constrained by the demands of young. There is also evidence from field observations and experiments that indicate that conflict is a key factor in determining breeding system evolution (see my recent review paper with Tamás Székely and John Reynolds).

I am also interested in the factors that have driven recent population declines in many shorebird species. Among North American shorebirds, we (with Tamás Székely and Rick Lanctot) have shown that species that migrate using continental routes (rather than coastal or oceanic routes) are more likely to be in decline (get the paper here). We are now investigating population declines on a global scale.

In 2003 I spent the summer in Barrow, Alaska helping out with a USFWS breeding shorebird survey with Rick Lanctot, recordings and photos from the field season are on this website, produced by Kathy Turco.


Avian Diversity Hotspots

My first postdoc was with the Avian Diversity Hotspots Consortium (ADHoC), a collaborative research team including David Orme (Imperial College), Richard Davies (then U. Sheffield, now UEA), Valerie Olson (Institute of Zoology), Tim Blackburn (then U. Birmingham, now UCL), Ian Owens (then Imperial, now NHM), Kevin Gaston (then U. Sheffield, now U. Exeter) and Peter Bennett (then Institute of Zoology, now DICE).

The group compiled data on the breeding ranges to generate the first diversity maps of all of the world’s extant birds. We used these to test hypotheses about latitudinal diversity gradients in taxonomic richness (Thomas et al. 2008, Phillimore et al. 2008, Davies et al. 2007 Storch et al. 2006), range size (Orme et al. 2006), beta diversity (Gaston et al. 2007), body size (Olson et al. 2009) and threat (Davies et al. 2006) as well as assessing congruence between indices of richness of birds, mammals, and amphibians (Grenyer et al. 2006).