Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research


Dr Richard Pearson

Richard Pearson is a Reader in the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research, which is a research centre within the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at UCL. Richard completed his Doctorate in biogeography at the University of Oxford in 2004. From 2005-2013 he was a postdoc and then research scientist at the American Museum of Natural History, where he maintains affiliation as a Research Associate.

Dr Richard Pearson

Richard’s research focuses on the biogeography of animals and plants: Where are species distributed? Why are they distributed there? How do distributions change over time? Deepening our understanding of these questions requires a melding of ecological and evolutionary theory, and will be crucial for developing effective conservation strategies in a time of rapid global environmental change. He addresses these challenges using modern computational technologies, including Geographic Information Systems, remote sensing, and ecological modelling. Key topics of interest include the impacts of climate change on biodiversity, the relationship between ecological niches and geographic distributions, speciation processes, and targeting field surveys to accelerate the discovery of unknown species and populations.

Richard has been identified as one of the world’s most Highly Cited Researchers in the field of Environment/Ecology (Thomson Reuters 2014). He has been Principal Investigator on research projects funded by the US National Science Foundation and by NASA, and his doctoral and postdoctoral research was funded through the European Commission. Richard is a Subject Editor for the journal Global Change Biology and an Associate Editor for Journal of Biogeography. He serves on the steering committee for the IUCN Species Survival Commission Climate Change Specialist Group, is a contributing author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Working Group II, Fifth Assessment Report), and is a member of the UK Natural Environment Research Council’s Peer Review College.

Alongside his research and teaching, Richard engages in communicating biodiversity research to a general audience, including publishing a non-specialist book on the impact of climate change on biodiversity (Driven to Extinction, 2011).

Contacts: richard.pearson@ucl.ac.uk, or via Chris Langridge: c.langridge@ucl.ac.uk, +44 (0)203 108 7691

Research Papers
Commentary and other publications

R code to implement RTR significance test for assessing ecological niche evolution. Code available as Supporting Information to the paper that first described the test: Nunes and Pearson 2016. Journal of Biogeography, doi: 10.1111/jbi.12910.

Fine-Scale Climate Scenarios with Annual Time Steps, 2010-2100, for the Contiguous United States. This dataset comprises two climate scenarios for the contiguous United States at a resolution of ~800m x 800m, with annual time slices from 2010 to 2100. Data include nineteen bioclimatic variables that are commonly used in ecological analyses. The data were first used and are described in full in Pearson, R.G. et al. 2014 Life history and spatial traits predict extinction risk due to climate change. Nature Climate Change, 4:217-221.

Predicted distributions of vegetation in the Arctic under future climate scenarios. Predicted shifts in vegetation classes across the circumpolar Arctic under a range of future scenarios, as described in Pearson, R.G. et al. 2013. Shifts in Arctic vegetation and associated feedbacks under climate change. Nature Climate Change 3:673–677.

Climate clusters and retreat-dispersion watershed in Madagascar. GIS datasets that are Supplementary Information (Appendices S2 and S3) to Pearson, R.G. & Raxworthy, C.J. 2009. The evolution of local endemism in Madagascar: watershed vs. climatic gradient hypotheses evaluated by null biogeographic models. Evolution 63:959-967.

Grid Interpolator software to interpolate between GIS grids. This tool simply applies a linear interpolation between two grids on a cell by cell basis, as detailed in the user guide that downloads with the software. The tool was first used to create a time series of annual habitat suitability maps in Keith, D. et al. 2008. Predicting extinction risks under climate change: coupling stochastic population models with dynamic bioclimatic habitat models. Biology Letters 4:560-563.

pValueCompute software for testing species distribution models with few occurrence records. This software is Supplementary Information (Appendix S1) for calculating the P value described in Pearson, R.G. et al. 2007. Predicting species’ distributions from small numbers of occurrence records: a test case using cryptic geckos in Madagascar. Journal of Biogeography 34:102-117. Miguel Nakamura has also written an R script to implement the test (note that this hasn’t been optimized for speed, but will hopefully be of interest to users of R; here is an example of the required data input format).

Current doctoral students

Fiona Spooner, UCL and Institute of Zoology (started 2015). Fiona is funded through the NERC London Doctoral Training Partnership. She is supervised by Richard Pearson at UCL (lead) and Robin Freeman at IoZ. Fiona aims to use observed population trends to improve forecasts of future impacts of environmental change on biodiversity.

Daniella Rabaiotti, UCL and Institute of Zoology (started 2015). Dani is funded through the NERC London Doctoral Training Partnership. She is supervised by Rosie Woodroffe at IoZ (lead supervisor) and Richard Pearson at UCL. Dani aims to develop a mechanistic understanding of how wild dogs respond to climate change.

Helen O’Neil, UCL and Institute of Zoology (started 2014). Helen is supervised by Prof. Rosie Woodroffe (lead) and Dr. Sarah Durant at IoZ, and by Richard Pearson at UCL. She is studying the effects of habitat change on cheetah and wild dogs in rural Kenya, and the implications for improving ecosystem management.

Recently completed doctoral students

Laura Nunes, UCL and Natural History Museum (started 2013, completed 2017). Laura was supervised by Richard Pearson (lead) and Mark Wilkinson (NHM). She studied ecological niche conservatism among chameleons in Madagascar.

Veronica Zamora Gutierrez, UCL and University of Cambridge (started 2011, completed 2015). Veronica was supervised by Kate Jones (lead) and Richard Pearson at UCL, and by Rhys Green at the University of Cambridge. She studied the distributions and conservation status of bats in Mexico.

André Carvalho, American Museum of Natural History (started 2011, completed 2014). André’s dissertation committee comprised Darrell Frost (lead), Rob DeSalle, Mark Siddall, and Richard Pearson. He studied the systematics and biogeography of a South American lizard genus.

Richard teaches a module Species Conservation and Biodiversity, which is available to 3rd and 4th year undergraduate students at UCL. He also organizes a module Analytical Tools in Biodiversity, Evolutionary and Conservation Research, which is a core element of the UCL Master’s degree program in Biodiversity, Evolution and Conservation.

Richard taught a NERC-funded short course on Species Distribution Modelling in November 2014 and has made the talks available on YouTube.

Richard has also made teaching materials freely available through the Network of Conservation Educators and Practitioners (NCEP):


Richard is pleased to discuss potentially supporting postdoctoral fellowship applications. If you are interested in collaborating on a fellowship application, please email a short description of a project idea and proposed target for funding (for example, NERC Independent Research Fellowship, Newton International Fellowship, Marie Curie Research Fellowship).


The following opportunities can provide funding for strong doctoral students:

The NERC London Doctoral Training Partnership. Richard has projects on offer through this programme (please apply through the DTP website).

UCL Graduate Research Scholarships

UCL CoMPLEX MRes/PhD Modelling Biological Complexity

Commonwealth Scholarships

Richard also supervises Masters and undergraduate projects for UCL students, including those on the MRes in Biodiversity, Evolution & Conservation. Please also see our centre’s pages on research training for further information.