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James Fordyce


Research Interest

Evolutionary ecology, plant-insect interactions


2003- Ph.D., University of California, Davis


My research is motivated by questions pertaining to the underlying processes responsible for the evolution of behavioral, ecological, physiological and morphological discontinuities in nature, and how these processes might ultimately affect reproductive isolation. I explore both microevolutionary processes, such as the role of local adaptation and gene flow, and microevolutionary patterns, such as variation in diversification rates across phylogenies, as a means to arrive at synthetic hypotheses explaining patterns of diversity. My primary focus is on interactions between plants and insect herbivores (being partial to butterflies), and I have developed an integrative research program, employing methods and ideas from chemical ecology, population genetics and phylogenetics, and manipulative field and lab experiments. I believe that such an integrative approach, that includes what I  describe as ‘proximate’ (plant and herbivore physiology/chemistry), ‘contemporary’ or ’emergent’ (plasticity, community ecology, and behavior), and historical (population genetics and phylogenetics), lends itself to greater confidence in interpreting patterns in the natural world.

My current research focuses primarily on three systems / questions.

  1. Geographic variation in life-history and chemical defense traits of the pipevine swallowtail, Battus philenor, and how a varied adaptive landscape affects gene flow throughout North America.
  2. Diversification of lycaenid butterflies, primarily those in the Lycaeides species complex, and the relative roles of hybridization, host plant fidelity, and geography in diversification.
  3. Do microevolutionary processes necessarily leave a macroevolutionary footprint, and can phylogenetic hypotheses inform population level hypotheses?

Other areas of interest include the role of phenotypic variation and evolutionary history in structuring ecological communities, intra-population niche variation, alternate descriptors of biodiversity and the relentless pursuit for a meaningful definition of “speciation”.


Visit Google Scholar for more publications.

  • Marion, Z.H., J.A. Fordyce, and B.M. Fitzpatrick. 2017. Pairwise beta diversity resolves an underappreciated source of confusion in diversity partitioning. Ecology 98(4): 933-939.
  • Fordyce, J.A., C.C. Nice, C.A. Hamm, and M.L. Forister. 2016. Quantifying diet breadth through ordination of host association. Ecology 97:842-849.
  • Fordyce, J.A. and P.J. DeVries. 2016. A tale of two communities: Neotropical canopy butterfly assemblages show higher turnover compared to understory. Oecologia 181:235- 243.
  • Marion, Z.H., J.A. Fordyce, and B.M. Fitzpatrick. 2015. Extending the concept of diversity partitioning to characterize phenotypic complexity. American Naturalist 186:348- 347.
  • Gompert, Z, L.K. Lucas, C.A. Buerkle, M.L. Forister, J.A. Fordyce, and C.C. Nice. 2014. Admixture and the organization of genetic diversity in a butterfly species complex revealed through common and rare genetic variants. Molecular Ecology 23:4555-4573.
  • Nice, C.C., Z. Gompert, J.A. Fordyce, M.L. Forister, & L.K. Lucas. 2013. Hybrid speciation and independent evolution in lineages of alpine butterflies. Evolution 67:1055-1068.(PDF)
  • Shah, P., B.M. Fitzpatrick, & J.A. Fordyce. 2013. A parametric method for assessing rate variation in phylogenetic trees. Evolution 67:368-377.(PDF)
  • Fitzpatrick, B.M., J.A. Fordyce, M. Neimiller, & R.G. Reynolds. 2012. What can DNA tell us about biological invasions? Biological Invasions. 14:245-253. (PDF)

Contact Information

  • 540 Hesler
  • Mailing Address: 569 Dabney Hall, 1416 Circle Dr, Knoxville, TN 37996
  • Phone: (865) 974-2925 Lab: (865) 974-3902
  • Fax: (865) 974-3067
  • E-mail:
  • Lab Website