UCL Division of Biosciences

Prof Richard Pearson

Prof Richard Pearson

Professor of Ecology

Genetics, Evolution & Environment

Div of Biosciences

Joined UCL
1st Jun 2013

Research summary

My research focuses on questions relating to the conservation and evolution of biodiversity: what processes determine species' distributions? how do distributions and abundances respond to environmental change? how does biodiversity contribute to human well-being? Deepening our understanding of these questions requires melding ecological and evolutionary theory, and will be crucial for developing effective conservation strategies in a time of rapid global environmental change. My expertise is in the application of modern computational technologies, including ecological modelling, remote sensing, GIS, and machine learning. Main research areas include:

  • Modelling species' distributions: I have been active in advancing the theory and practice of Species Distribution Modelling, including for discovering new species, predicting respones to environmental change, and estimating the risk of species' invasions.
  • The impacts of climate change on biodiversity: I use empirical records and modelled scenarios to understand how species' distributions and abundances respond to climate change, including developing methods to assess species' vulnerability for conservation prioritization.
  • Nature's benefits to people: I aim to deepen our understanding of how biodiversity benefits human well-being, for instance through pollination and pest management in agricultural systems, and the resilience of such ecosystem services to environmental change.
  • The geography and ecology of speciation: Using species-rich endemic radiations of geckos, chameleons and snakes in Madagascar as a study system, we explore the geographic and ecological mechanisms by which speciation occurs.

Teaching summary

Richard teaches a module Species Conservation and Biodiversity, which is available to third and fourth year undergraduate students as well as students taking the MSc Biodiversity and Global Change. He also teaches on the first year undergraduate module Life on Earth.

Richard taught a NERC-funded shortcourse on Species Distribution Modelling in November 2014 and has made the talks available online. He has also made available sample videos of undergraduate lectures, including on how to read and write a scientific paper. Richard has also made teaching materials freely available through the Network of Conservation Educators and Practitioners (NCEP): modules on Species Distribution Modelling and Observed Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity.


Richard Pearson is Professor of Ecology and Associate Director (Research) for the Division of Biosciences. Richard is a member (and former Director, 2018-2022) of the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research, which is within the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment. He completed his Doctorate at the University of Oxford in 2004 and from 2005-2013 was a research scientist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Richard has been identified one of the world’s most Highly Cited Researchers in the field of Environment/Ecology. His research focuses on how biodiversity responds to environmental change, including climate change, and on evolutionary biogeography. Richard also teaches biodiversity and conservation biology to undergraduate and master's students.

As Associate Director (Research) for the Division of Biosciences, Richard contributes to the development and delivery of strategic research objectives across the Division, which is a community of over 500 staff and 300 PhD students. In his former role as Director of CBER, he led a vibrant community of around 30 staff and 30 PhD students.

Richard is on the editorial board of the journal Global Change Biology, is a member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Climate Change Specialist Group, has been a contributing author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and is a member of the UK Natural Environment Research Council’s Peer Review College.