Professor Tim Shreeve


Professor Emeritus

Department of Biological and Medical Sciences


My research is in the area of insect ecology and phylogeography, using butterflies as model organisms, with a firm commitment to contributing to the evidence base for conservation.

Areas of expertise

  • Insect Ecology and Conservation
  • Butterfly phylogeography


I lead the Invertebrate Ecology and Biogeography research group. Our research is within three linked themes:

1.The roles of morphology and physiology in limiting species distributions at a range of scales:
All species have definable geographic ranges and associations with particular physical and biological elements where they occur. If the reasons for these associations can be understood then efforts to conserve species and predict species occurrences become easier. Using butterflies as model organisms I focus on how morphology (colour, pattern, size and shape) and thermal requirements influences the range of microhabitats and microclimates that species use. I do this using innovative behavioural field studies combined with microclimate recording, body temperature measurements, and morphological analyses. This work is providing direct evidence why invertebrate species may not respond in the same way to environmental change as predicted by conventional climate change modelling; insects respond to much finer grained thermal environments than can be modelled with climate change scenario data. The work also has a very important, and recognised, message for conservation; providing appropriate environments for insects requires heterogeneity of structures to cater for their thermal requirements and their needs to avoid predators, find mates, lay eggs and complete their life-cycle. 

2. Determining faunal structures among European butterflies:
With colleagues (Uk and International) I have used existing distribution data sets (UKBMS and the European- Electronic Atlas of European Butterflies) to identify hotspots of diversity within Europe where conservation effort should be focused. Using butterflies as examples (primarily because of the quality of the existing data) we have identified species with similar responses to past climatic and landscape events, because these groups have unique distribution patterns and evolutionary dynamics.  Recent work on the occurrence of species on the Tuscan, Sicilian and Aegean Islands has identified that within any particular location there is measurable species loss and recolonization over recent time scales and hidden biodiversity; revealed by mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis. We have extended this work to the British Isles and have identified a diverse and somewhat unexpected pattern of colonization. As with the Mediterranean island there are hidden patterns of biodiversity with some species comprising more than one evolutionary lineage. We are also identifying homogenisation of faunas with recent environmental change. This aspect of the work is partly with Dr Saad Arif and Michael Gerth in which we are using mtDNA, nuclear markers and Wolbachia to reveal genetic structuring that has resulted from multiple coloniztion events. This has implications for conservation prioritising.

3. Linking species attributes to distributions and redefining what habits are:
Current threats to a large proportion of the butterflies of Europe mean that species centred conservation programmes are unlikely to be effective for maintaining and enhancing the majority of them as there are insufficient resources and time to adopt such an approach. Instead, I and colleagues are identifying the basic ecological attributes that determine which species should predictably occur together and have similar responses to small and large-scale environmental change.  This work was developed within the UK, partly with individuals from the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). Knowing species attributes also helps understand what resource sets species need to persist, which trait combinations make some species highly vulnerable to climate and landscape change and  which combinations make species very successful in response to current changes. Knowing the key traits of species and their precise resource requirements will provide for evidence based management to maintain species and communities at the landscape and site scales. With UK and International collaborators we have recently produced a comprehensive trait database of the European and Maghreb butterflies, which provides a valuable resource for understanding the importance of the fundamental characteristics of this taxonomc group which influences their responses to environmental changes.

My research has been funded by:

  • NERC
  • Leverhulme Trust
  • Legambiente Italia (Italian National Parks)
  • HEIF (Proof of Concept funding)

Centres and institutes


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Professional information

Memberships of professional bodies

  • Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society
  • Member of Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management
  • Member of the British Ecological Society
  • Member of NERC Industrial Case Awards Panel (2016)

Further details

Press, publicity and reviews

Melanic bees