Dolph Schluter received his BSc in ecology in 1977 from the University of Guelph. He obtained his PhD in 1983 from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, under the supervision or Peter R. Grant (NAS). For his doctoral thesis, Schluter studied ecological mechanisms driving evolution in island assemblages of Darwin’s finch species. For his fieldwork, he and an assistant spent nearly two years living in a tent on remote and otherwise uninhabited Galápagos Islands. Schluter’s work on the finches culminated in the first estimates from nature of mean fitness (“adaptive”) landscapes, which successfully predicted mean beak sizes of Galápagos ground finches. He was able to compare these landscapes to fitness functions from data on natural selection, using a method he also pioneered, and to test shifts caused by interspecific competition between species. This work was a key component of a long-term study of the Darwin’s finches that has been recognized as the most successful ever field study of evolution. Schluter obtained a tenure track position at UBC in 1989, where he played a steering role in building one of the world’s strongest research groups in biodiversity science.

Between 1983 and 1990 Schluter studied the evolution of bird assemblages, during which he developed methods to estimate convergence between faunas. This work led to a collaboration with R. E. Ricklefs (NAS) that produced a highly influential coedited volume on global patterns of species diversity (Chicago, 1993). At the same time, Schluter initiated work on BC stickleback fish, which enabled his landmark experimental and comparative studies on mechanisms driving the origin and divergence of new species. This work yielded advances on almost every significant research problem in adaptive radiation, and his stickleback species pairs have become one of the best-known natural study systems in evolutionary biology. The work inspired many ideas, culminating in his now classic text, The Ecology of Adaptive Radiation (Oxford, 2000). His subsequent collaboration with D. Kingsley led to the discovery of key genes underlying species differences and made the stickleback a “supermodel” for studies of adaptive genetic variation.

Research Interests

I investigate recent adaptive radiation, whereby a single ancestor diversifies rapidly into an array of species that inhabit a variety of environments and that differ in traits used to exploit those environments. I am especially interested in the selection pressures that drive the origin of new species, the ecological interactions that lead to the evolution of species differences, the genetic basis of these differences, and the wider impacts of diversification on ecosystems. I addressed these questions initially in field studies of Darwin's finches, but over recent decades I have developed for study a natural system having many advantages, the threespine sticklebacks of fresh water and coastal marine areas of British Columbia. Our work has included the quantitative estimation of natural selection surfaces and ancestral traits, the experimental study of species interactions, natural selection and evolution, and the discovery of genetic differences at interesting loci and their fitness consequences. My second interest is the role of evolutionary processes and historical events in the development and maintenance of Earth's major biodiversity gradients. For example, we have studied the role of variation in the rates at which new species form in the evolution and maintenance of the latitudinal diversity gradient, the widespread tendency for species numbers to be much greater in the tropics than in the temperate zone.

Membership Type

International Member

Election Year


Primary Section

Section 27: Evolutionary Biology