I use cross-taxon or cross-individual comparisons to answer questions about biological processes, usually in the fields of evolution, behaviour and ecology. Cross-taxon comparisons are used, together with phylogenetic information, to reveal characters on an evolutionary tree that tend to evolve together and are functionally related – for example in mammals large testes size, high sperm counts and mating systems that involve sperm competition.
Such studies are done within a formal hypothesis-testing statistical framework that controls for non-independence. Cross-individual comparisons use gene sequence data, usually from viruses, to reveal the population dynamic or epidemiological history of diseases. With colleagues, I have been able to use gene sequence data from individuals from non-recombining populations (e.g. Hepatitis C) to calculate the reproductive number, which underpins more recent theoretical and practical understanding of epidemiological histories. The cross-taxon studies have usually involved vertebrates, mammals and birds in particular, while the cross-individual comparisons have concentrated on viruses. For the most part, advances in biological understanding have followed the development of appropriate statistical techniques that have then become more widely used by other workers in the field.
I am an ISI Highly Cited Researcher, a Visiting Professor at Imperial college, and a Fellow of Academia Europaea. From 2000-2011 I served as Secretary of the Zoological Society of London (constitutionally the Chief Executive responsible for London and Whipsnade Zoos, the Institute of Zoology and the Conservation Programmes). From 1998-2011 I was Head of the Department of Zoology at Oxford.