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.
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).
- Research Papers
Staniczenko, P.P.A., Sivasubramaniam, P., Suttle, K.B., & Pearson, R.G. 2017. Linking macroecology and community ecology: Refining predictions of species distributions using biotic interaction networks. Ecology Letters, doi: 10.1111/ele.12770.
Nunes, L.A. & Pearson, R.G. 2016. A null biogeographic test for assessing ecological niche evolution. J. Biogeography, doi: 10.1111/jbi.12910.
Pearson, R.G. 2016. Reasons to conserve nature. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 31:366-371.
Pacifici, M., Foden, W.B., Visconti, P., Watson, J.E.M., Butchart, S.H.M., Kovacs, K.M., Scheffers, B.R., Hole, D.G., Martin, T.G., Akçakaya, H.R., Corlett, R.T., Huntley, B., Bickford, D. Carr, J.A., Hoffmann, A.A., Midgley, G.F., Pearce-Kelly, P., Pearson, R.G., Williams, S.E., Willis, S.G., Young, B., Rondinini, C. 2015. Assessing species vulnerability to climate change. Nature Climate Change 5:215-224.
Pearson, R.G. 2015. Asian common toads in Madagascar: an urgent effort to inform surveys and eradication efforts. Global Change Biology, 21:9.
Stanton, J.C., Shoemaker, K.T., Pearson, R.G., Akçakaya, H.R. 2015. Warning times for species extinctions due to climate change. Global Change Biology, 21:1066-1077.
Akçakaya, H.R., Butchart, S.H.M., Watson, J.E.M., Pearson, R.G. 2014. Preventing species extinctions resulting from climate change. Nature Climate Change 4:1048-1049
Chapman, S., Mustin, K., Renwick, A.R., Segan, D.B., Hole, D.G., Pearson, R.G. & Watson, J.E.M. 2014. Publishing trends on climate change vulnerability in the conservation literature reveal a predominant focus on direct impacts and long time-scales. Diversity and Distributions, doi: 10.1111/ddi.12234.
Pearson, R.G., Stanton. J.C., Shoemaker, K.T., Aiello-Lammens, M.E., Ersts, P.J., Horning, N., Fordham, D.A., Raxworthy, C.J., Ryu, H.Y., McNees, J., & Akçakaya, H.R. 2014. Life history and spatial traits predict extinction risk due to climate change. Nature Climate Change, 4:217-221. (See News and Views article: Guisan, A. 2014 Nature Climate Change 4:175-176.)
Blair, M., Sterling, E.J., Dusch, M., Raxworthy, C.J., & Pearson, R.G. 2013. Ecological divergence and speciation in Eulemur sister species. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 26:1790-1801.
Kershaw, F., Waller, T., Micucci, P., Draque, J., Barros, M., Buongermini, E., Pearson, R.G., and Mendez, M. 2013. Informing conservation units: barriers to dispersal for the yellow anaconda. Diversity and Distributions, 19:1164-1174.
Pearson, R.G., Phillips, S.J., Loranty, M.M., Beck, P.S.A., Damoulas, T., Knight, S.J., & Goetz, S.J. 2013. Shifts in Arctic vegetation and associated feedbacks under climate change. Nature Climate Change, 3:673–677.
Blair, M., Rose, R.A., Ersts, P.J., Redford, K.H., Sanderson, E.W., Didier, K., Sterling, E.J., & Pearson, R.G.* 2012. Incorporating climate change into conservation planning: Identifying priority areas across a species’ range. Frontiers of Biogeography, 4:157-167.
Stanton, J.C., Pearson, R.G., Horning, N., Ersts, P.J. & Akçakaya, H.R. 2012. Combining static and dynamic landscape variables in predicting species’ range shifts under climate change. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 3:349-357.
Fordham, D.A., Akçakaya, H.R., Araújo, M.B., Elith, J., Keith, D., Pearson, R.G., Auld, T., Mellin, C., Morgan, J.W., Regan, T., Tozer, M., Watts, M., White, M., Wintle, B., Yates, C. & Brook, B.W. 2012. Plant extinction risk under climate change: are forecast range shifts alone a good indicator of species vulnerability to global warming? Global Change Biology, 18:1357-1371.
Robinson, L., Elith, J., Hobday, A., Pearson, R.G., Kendall, B.E., Possingham, H.P., Richardson, A.J. 2011. Pushing the limits in marine species distribution modelling: lessons from the land present challenges and opportunities. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 20:789-802.
Brook, B.W., Akçakaya, H.R., Keith, D.A., Mace, G.M., Pearson, R.G., Araújo, M.B. 2009. Integrating bioclimate with population models to improve forecasts of species extinctions under climate change. Biology Letters, 5:723-725.
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.
Bynum, N., Sterling, E.J., Weeks, B., Roosenburg, K., Gomez, A., Vintinner, E., Arengo, F., Domroese, M., and Pearson, R.G. 2009. Systems approaches to biological and cultural diversity. Science Education and Civic Engagement, 2(1):38-55.
Raxworthy, C.J., Pearson, R.G., Zimkus, B., Reddy, S.B, Deo, A., Nussbaum, R.A. & Ingram, C. 2008. Continental speciation in the tropics: contrasting biogeographic patterns of divergence in the Uroplatus leaf-tailed gecko radiation of Madagascar.Journal of Zoology, 275:423-440.
Keith, D., Akçakaya, R., Thuiller, W., Midgley, G., Pearson, R.G., Phillips, S.J., Regan, H, Araújo, M.B., Rebelo, A, G. 2008. Predicting extinction risks under climate change: coupling stochastic population models with dynamic bioclimatic habitat models.Biology Letters, 4:560-563.
Raxworthy, C.J., Pearson, R.G., Rabibisoa, N., Rakotondrazafy, A.M., Ramanamanjato, J., Raselimanana, A.P., Wu, S., Nussbaum, R.A., & Stone, D. 2008. Extinction vulnerability of tropical montane endemism from warming and upslope displacement: a preliminary appraisal for the highest massif in Madagascar. Global Change Biology, 14:1-18.
Heikkinen, R.K., Luoto, M., Virkkala, R., Pearson, R.G. & Körber, J-H. 2007. Biotic interactions improve prediction of boreal bird distributions at macro-scales. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 16:754-763.
Raxworthy, C.J., Ingram, C., Rabibisoa, N. & Pearson, R.G. 2007. Applications of ecological niche modeling for species delimitation: a review and empirical evaluation using Day Geckos (Phelsuma) from Madagascar. Systematic Biology, 56:907-923.
Hannah, L., Midgley, G., Andelman, S., Araújo, M.B., Hughes, G., Martínez-Meyer, E., Pearson, R.G. & Williams, P. 2007. Protected area needs in a changing climate.Frontiers in Ecology and Environment, 5:131-138.
Pearson, R.G., Raxworthy, C.J., Nakamura, M. & Peterson, A.T. 2007. Predicting species’ distributions from small numbers of occurrence records: a test case using cryptic geckos in Madagascar. Journal of Biogeography, 34:102-117.
Pearson, R.G. 2006. Climate change and the migration capacity of species. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 21:111-113.
Pearson, R.G., Thuiller, W., Araújo, M.B., Brotons, L., Martínez-Meyer, E., McClean, C., Miles, L., Segurado, P., Dawson, T.P. & Lees, D. 2006. Model-based uncertainty in species’ range prediction. Journal of Biogeography, 33:1704-1711.
Araújo, M.B., Thuiller, W. & Pearson, R.G. 2006. Climate warming and the decline of amphibians and reptiles in Europe. Journal of Biogeography, 33:1712-1728.
Del Barrio, G., Harrison, P.A., Berry, P.M., Butt, N., Sanjuan, M., Pearson, R.G. & Dawson, T.P. 2006. Integrating multiple modelling approaches to predict the potential impacts of climate change on species distributions in contrasting regions: comparison and implications for policy. Environmental Science and Policy, 9:129-147.
Liu, C., Berry P.M., Dawson T. P. & Pearson, R.G. 2005. Selecting thresholds of occurrence in the prediction of species distributions. Ecography, 28:385-393.
Pearson, R.G. & Dawson, T.P. 2005. Long-distance plant dispersal and habitat fragmentation: identifying conservation targets for spatial landscape planning under climate change. Biological Conservation, 123:389-401.
Araújo, M.B., Pearson, R.G., Thuiller, W. & Erhard, M. 2005. Validation of species-climate impact models under climate change. Global Change Biology, 11:1504-1513.
Araújo, M.B. & Pearson, R.G. 2005. Equilibrium of species’ distributions with climate.Ecography, 28:693-695.
Williams, P.H., Hannah, L., Andelman, S.J, Midgley, G.F., Araújo, M.B., Hughes, G., Manne, L.L., Martínez-Meyer, E. & Pearson, R.G. 2005. Planning for climate change: identifying minimum-dispersal corridors for the Cape Proteaceae. Conservation Biology, 19:1063-1074.
Pearson, R.G. & Dawson, T.P. 2004. Bioclimate envelope models: what they detect and what they hide – response to Hampe (2004). Global Ecology and Biogeography, 13:471-473.
Thuiller, W., Araújo, M.B., Pearson, R.G., Whittaker, R.J., Brotons, L. & Lavorel, S. 2004. Biodiversity conservation: uncertainty in predictions of extinction risk.Nature, 430:33 (doi: 10.1038/Nature02716).
Pearson, R.G., Dawson T.P. & Liu, C. 2004. Modelling species distributions in Britain: a hierarchical integration of climate and land-cover data. Ecography, 27: 285-298.
Pearson, R.G. & Dawson, T.P. 2003. Predicting the impacts of climate change on the distribution of species: are bioclimate envelope models useful? Global Ecology and Biogeography, 12:361-371.
Berry, P. M., Dawson, T.P., Harrison, P.A. & Pearson, R.G. 2002. Modelling potential impacts of climate change on the bioclimatic envelope of species in Britain and Ireland. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 11:453-462.
Pearson, R.G., Dawson, T.P., Berry, P.M. & Harrison, P.A. 2002. SPECIES: a Spatial Evaluation of Climate Impact on the Envelope of Species. Ecological Modelling, 154:289-300.
Pearson, R.G. 2011. Driven to Extinction: The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity. Sterling, New York; and Natural History Museum, UK. 264 pages.
From the back cover: Climate change is real, and so is the threat it poses to the diversity of plants and animals that inhabit Earth. Yet debate on this topic has been polarized by catastrophists who fret that we are heading toward total disaster and skeptics who insist that there is nothing to worry about. In Driven to Extinction, Richard Pearson explains the science behind the debates in an unbiased and level-headed manner. Pearson shows that the threat posed to biodiversity by climate change increases the risk of extinction, especially when combined with other threats, such as habitat destruction and the influx of non-native species. But he is no alarmist. On the contrary, he warns against predictions of doom, highlighting the often unexpected ways in which nature can adapt to environmental change. Even so, Pearson does not gloss over the seriousness of the issue. Focusing on case studies from around the world, he describes not only what we know, but how we know it—the data, methods, and reasoning behind particular conclusions. In doing so, he deepens our understanding of what science does and does not know, and contributes a unique perspective to the debate that really matters: not who is to blame, but what is to be done.
“For the person interested in communicating climate change, Pearson presents a masterful case of how to do that effectively.” – Mark W. Schwartz, review in Ecology.
“devoid of jargon and excessive technical terminology, Pearson’s work is highly recommended to anyone with interest in nature conservation or broader climate change issues” – Michael M. Gunter Jr., review in Biological Conservation.
“The text is information-rich but effortless to read… this is an excellent book” – Richard T. Corlett, review in Trends in Ecology and Evolution.
Published in the US in 2011 by Sterling, New York (available in hardback)
Published in the UK by the Natural History Museum (available in paperback)
Peterson, A.T., Soberón, J., Pearson, R.G., Anderson, R.P., Martínez-Meyer, E., Nakamura, M. and M.B. Araújo. 2011. Ecological Niches and Geographic Distributions. Monographs in Population Biology, Princeton University Press. 314 pages.
From the back cover: This book provides a first synthetic view of an emerging area of ecology and biogeography, linking individual- and population-level processes to geographic distributions and biodiversity patterns. Problems in evolutionary ecology, macroecology, and biogeography are illuminated by this integrative view. The book focuses on correlative approaches known as ecological niche modeling, species distribution modeling, or habitat suitability modeling, which use associations between known occurrences of species and environmental variables to identify environmental conditions under which populations can be maintained. The spatial distribution of environments suitable for the species can then be estimated: a potential distribution for the species. This approach has broad applicability to ecology, evolution, biogeography, and conservation biology, as well as to understanding the geographic potential of invasive species and infectious diseases, and the biological implications of climate change.
The authors lay out conceptual foundations and general principles for understanding and interpreting species distributions with respect to geography and environment. Focus is on development of niche models. While serving as a guide for students and researchers, the book also provides a theoretical framework to support future progress in the field.
“an impressively well written exposition of the conceptual foundation, practical implementation, and potential applications of niche modeling. . . . Overall, this book is an instant classic and a critical read for anyone interested in this fast-moving field of ecological niche modeling.” – Alycia Stigall, Priscum
“I found this book very useful. Its theoretical rigor will please those already involved with niche modeling, and its numerous and interesting examples make it accessible to a broad readership.” – Ian S. Pearce, Quarterly Review of Biology
Published by Princeton University Press, available in hardback, paperback and as an ebook.
- Commentary and other publications
Pearson, R.G. 2015. Is halting biodiversity loss a fairy tale? The Conversation, 26 Oct 2015.
Pearson, R.G. 2012. Opinion: Protecting Many Species to Help Our Own. The New York Times Sunday Review, June 3rd 2012.
Pearson, R.G. 2012. Discovering a new world: François Péron’s voyage to Australia. Pages 96-99 in Natural Histories: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History Library. Sterling Signature, New York.
Pearson, R.G. 2011. Book review: Effects of Climate Change on Birds, edited by Anders Pape Møller, Wolfgang Fiedler, and Peter Berthold (Oxford University Press, 2010). The Quarterly Review of Biology, 86:343.
Pearson, R.G. 2008. Editorial: Teaching biogeography. Newsletter of the International Biogeography Society, 6:4.
Pearson, R.G. 2007 Species distribution modeling for conservation educators and practitioners. Lessons in Conservation, 3:54-89 (ncep.amnh.org/linc).
Pearson, R.G. 2007. E-letter: Science, religion, and climate change: a marriage of convenience? Science, published online July 12, 2007.
Pearson, R.G. 2005. Letter: A strongly held, but wrong conviction. Science, 309:1814.
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):
- Pearson, R.G. 2008. Observed Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity. Synthesis (17 pages) and classroom exercise.
- Pearson, R.G. 2007. Species’ Distribution Modeling. Synthesis (published Pearson 2007 LinC 3:54-89) and Powerpoint presentation with teacher’s notes (52 slides).
Videos of an undergraduate lecture on how to read and write a scientific paper. A talk that explains the peer-review process and provides tips on writing a scientific report.
Video of talks from training course on Species Distribution Modelling, London, November 2014. The course introduces the theory of distribution modelling, describes the practice of constructing and evaluating a model, and discusses some common applications.
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:
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.