Joseph Tobias

Joseph Tobias

Senior Lecturer, Imperial College


After completing a PhD at Cambridge University, I worked with BirdLife International and IUCN, co-authoring a series of conservation action plans and books. I joined the EGI in January 2006, took up a Departmental Lectureship in January 2009, and became a Research Fellow of Somerville College in October 2009. I became a Senior Lecturer at Imperial College in April 2015.


Research Activities

My research investigates the processes generating, sustaining and structuring biodiversity. I use a combination of experimental, phylogenetic and spatial mapping approaches to test theory, and to explain microevolutionary and macroevolutionary patterns over a range of spatial and temporal scales. Most of this work uses the world’s birds as a study system, but increasingly focuses on other components of biodiversity, from primates and reef fish to insects and plants. I am interested in using these insights to help us predict and manage the response of ecosystems to global change, with applications from biodiversity conservation to environmental policy. Although recent work is global in scope, my main interest lies in tropical systems, especially tropical rainforests. Current areas of interest are:

  • Sensory ecology, signal evolution, and cultural evolution
  • Speciation and diversification
  • Species interactions
  • Ecological impacts of climate and land-use change
  • Sustainable management of ecosystem function and services

Media and Outreach

I am interested in communicating about science and conservation to the public. My work has been widely covered in newspapers, on radio and on the web (see below), and features in several education sites (e.g. Today’s Science). I have written popular articles about tropical research and ornithology (e.g. 12), and produced local and regional field guides and education materials for tropical countries (e.g. hummingbirds; antbirds).

Other Information

I serve on the Editorial Board of Evolution (2014–). I am also a Research Associate of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, a Senior Research Fellow of the Centre for Tropical Research (University of California, Los Angeles), and a member of the Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests.

For a full list of publications, see here.

Selected publications
Bregman TP, Lees AC, MacGregor HEA, et al. 2016. Using avian functional traits to assess the impact of land-cover change on ecosystem processes linked to resilience in tropical forests. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-biological Sciences:283.

Cooney CR, Seddon N, Tobias JA 2016. Widespread correlations between climatic niche evolution and species diversification in birds Journal of Animal Ecology: 85, 869-878

Mason NA, Burns KJ, Tobias JA, et al. 2016. Song evolution, speciation, and vocal learning in passerine birds Evolution

Pigot AL, Bregman T, Sheard C, et al. 2016. Quantifying species contributions to ecosystem processes: a global assessment of functional trait and phylogenetic metrics across avian seed-dispersal networks Proceedings of the Royal Society B-biological Sciences:283

Pigot, A.L., Tobias, J.A. 2014. Dispersal and the transition to sympatry in vertebrates. Proceedings of the Royal Society B online early: DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.1929. | Read paper

Trisos, C.H., Petchey, O.L., Tobias, J.A. 2014. Unraveling the Interplay of Community Assembly Processes Acting on Multiple Niche Axes across Spatial Scales. American Naturalist 184: 593-608. | Read paper

Edwards, D.P., Tobias, J.A., Sheil, D., Meijaard, E., Laurance, W.F. 2014. Maintaining ecosystem function and services in logged tropical forests. Trends Ecol. Evol. 29: 511–520. | Read paper

Tobias, J.A., Cornwallis, C.K., Derryberry, E.P., Claramunt, S., Brumfield, R.T., Seddon, N. 2014. Species coexistence and the dynamics of phenotypic evolution in adaptive radiation.Nature (published online 22 December 2013). | Read paper | Press release | Quanta

Tobias, J.A., Planque, R., Cram, D., Seddon, N. 2014. Species interactions and the structure of complex communication networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 111: 1020–1025. | Read paper

Pigot, A., Tobias, J.A. 2013. Species interactions constrain geographic range expansion over evolutionary time. Ecology Letters 63: 330–338 | Read paper | Press release

Tobias, J.A., Montgomerie, R., Lyon, B. 2012. The evolution of female ornaments and weaponry: sexual selection, social selection and ecological competition. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. B. 367: 2274-2293 | Read paper

Salisbury, C., Seddon, N., Cooney, C., Tobias, J.A. 2012. The latitudinal gradient in dispersal constraints: ecological specialisation drives diversification in tropical birds. Ecology Letters 15: 847-855. | Read paper

Hoffmann, M. and 163 others including J.A. Tobias 2010. The impact of conservation on the status of the world’s vertebrates. Science Read PaperNature News | Guardian | Wall St Journal | LA Times

Tobias, J.A., Aben, J., Brumfield, R.T., Derryberry, E., Halfwerk, W., Slabbekoorn, H. & Seddon, N. 2010. Song divergence by sensory drive in Amazonian birds. Evolution 64: 2820–2839. | Read PaperFront cover

Seddon, N., Tobias, J.A. 2010. Character displacement from the receiver’s perspective: species and mate-recognition despite convergent signals in suboscine birds. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 277: 2475-2483. | Read Paper

Tobias, J.A., Seddon, N. 2009. Signal design and perception in Hypocnemis antbirds: evidence for convergent evolution via social selection. Evolution 63: 3169-3189. | Read PaperPress release | Science |BBC | Science Daily | ESA

Tobias, J.A., Seddon, N. 2009. Signal jamming mediates sexual conflict in a duetting bird. Current Biology 19: 577-582. | Read PaperWashington Post | New York Times | Sunday Telegraph

For a full list of publications click here