Dr Gavin Thomas

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

Senior Research Fellow

+44 114 222 0136

Full contact details

Dr Gavin Thomas
Department of Animal and Plant Sciences
B2 207
Alfred Denny Building
Western Bank
S10 2TN
  • Senior Research Fellow & Royal Society Research Fellow, Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, UK (2015-present)
  • Royal Society University Research Fellow, Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, UK (2013-present)
  • NERC Postdoctoral Fellow, Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, UK (2012-2013)
  • NERC Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Bristol, UK (2010-2012)
  • Postdoctoral Associate, Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College London, UK (2006-2010)
  • Postdoctoral Research Assistant, University of Birmingham, UK (2005-2006)
  • PhD, University of Bath, UK (2001-2005)
  • MSc Palaeobiology, University of Bristol, UK (2001)
  • BSc (Hons) Ecology, Cardiff University, Wales (1998)
Research interests

Phylogeny, diversification and trait evolution

My 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?

My research group works closely with the Natural History Museum and we have collected extensive data bill shapes and plumage colours from all extant bird species (~10,000 species) using museum study skins (mainly the NHM at Tring and also the University of Manchester Museum).

You can get involved with this ERC-funded project with our Bird bill citizen science project at markmybird.org and with plumage evolution at projectplumage.org.


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Journal articles

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Journal articles


Conference proceedings papers

Research group

Research group

  • Dr Chris Cooney (Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow)
  • Dr Jon Kennedy (Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow)
  • Dr Alex Slavenko (Royal Society postdoc, starting Jan 2020)

PhD students

  • Louie Rombaut (ACCE PhD - starting October 2019)
  • Frane Babarovic (Royal Society PhD - started 2018)
  • Emma Hughes (ACCE PhD - started 2016)
  • Yichen He (Leverhulme CABM/self PhD - started 2016)

Lab alumni

  • Dr Angela-Marie Chira (PhD completed 2018, now postdoc at University of Washington, St Louis)
  • Dr Emma Jardine (PhD completed 2017, now postdoc at German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research - iDiv, Jena)
  • Dr Kim Simpson (PhD completed 2018, now postdoc with Prof Colin Osborne in APS)
  • Dr Magnus Clarke (PhD completed 2018)
  • Dr Jen Bright (ERC postdoc, now Assistant Professor at the University of South Florida, USA)
  • Dr Thanh-Lan Gluckman (ERC postdoc, moved to The College de France)
  • Mark Puttick (completed PhD at University of Bristol, UK, in 2016, now Royal Commission 1851 Fellow at the University of Bath)
  • Chris Moody (Research Assistant, now CAD technician for GTC)
  • Zoë Varley (Research Assistant, now curator at the NHM)
  • Lara Nouri (Research Assistant, biological technician at Royal Holloway)
  • Elliot Capp (Research Assistant, now primary school teacher)
  • Michael Jardine (Research Assistant, now PhD student at UCL)
Teaching activities

My research interests are reflected in my teaching. I currently lecture on biogeography and macroecology in APS123 (Population and Community Ecology), phylogenies and diversification in APS220 (Evolutionary Biology) and APS342 (Evolutionary Ecology). At level 4, I supervise Research Projects (APS406) that typically address core themes of the lab: how and why do species and their traits diversify? Recent projects have asked how occupancy of isolated islands influences divergence in bill morphology in finches, what factors predict the diversity of colour among bird species, and whether egg laying (oviparity) versus live-bearing (viviparity) determines the rate of speciation in snakes.

Starting in 2019, I will lead a new masters-level module on Biodiversity in Space and Time as part of our new MSc courses in Biological Sciences and Biodiversity and Conservation.

Professional activities
  • Scientific Associate at the Natural History Museum