PhD Overview

Optimal life histories in a variable world


The patterns of growth, reproduction and death in organisms vary so wildly from species to species. Some species grow fast, reproduce vast numbers of offspring, and die young. Others take a slower pace, reproduce more considerately, and live to a ripe old age. Unfortunately, the diversity of life history strategies is not just a sliding scale from 0 to 1, ecology is never that simple. However, field scientists have collected data on the demography of hundreds of plants and animal species, these have been collated into the COMPADRE Plant Matrix Database and the COMADRE Plant Matrix Database. This presents a fascinating opportunity to quantify the spectrum of life history strategies - can we put different species into neat little boxes and classify them with neat labels? Probably not. All this glorious data also presents a whole array of challenges and complications, for which I’m developing methods (involving imaginary plants) to help tackle these challenges.

Research Supervisors


Dr Dylan Childs

(Primary supervisor)

Key Research Interests:

  • Population biologu with interests at both the pure and applied ends of the spectrum
  • Utilising an interdisciplinary approach, developing data-driven models to understand population dynamics and natural selection in laboratory and free-living animal and plant populations.
  • Understanding how demographic, environmental and ecological processes interact to influence population dynamics.
  • Developing theory and methods for modelling and analysis of structured populations.

Dr Roberto Salguero-Gómez

Key Research Interests:

  • Desert ecology: Effects of climate change on the population dynamics of desert biota
  • Life history theory: Quantification of the repertoire of life history strategies and their controls among plants and animals.
  • Senescence: Exploration of the biomolecular, anatomic and physiological mechanisms that facilitate the escape from senescence, as well as demographic strategies that correlate with it.
  • Structured population modelling: Application of matrix population models and integral projection models to a wide range of ecological, evolutionary and conservation biology matters.
  • Comparative biology: Evaluation of phylogenetic signal and rate of evolution on various life history traits (e.g. degree of iteroparity, lifespan) across the tree of life.

Prof Rob Freckleton

Key Research Interests:

  • Plant population ecology, modelling plant populations, modelling weed populations.
  • Evolutionary ecology, phylogenetic comparative methodology and its application to ecological problems.
  • Theoretical ecology, statistical methodology.

Dr Jonathan Potts

Key Research Interests:

  • Constructingtechniques to help predict the effects of future environmental change on the ability of animal populations to survive.
  • Infering the nature of animal interaction mechanisms, both with each other and their environment, from movement data
  • Complex systems of animal movements and interactions giving rise to emergent population-level patterns.

Website: jonathan-potts.staff.shef.ac.uk/