At the broadest level, we want to know how interactions among species (and between species and environments) have shaped the clades and ecological communities we see today.  More specifically, most of our research is directed at three kinds of questions:


·  How can we test ideas about ecological controls on speciation and extinction rates when we can't observe the past directly? We take comparative and theoretical approaches to this kind of inference. For example, simulation models of speciation make predictions about patterns of diversity that can be tested against data for real clades (e.g. Savolainen, Heard, et al. 2002).


·  How is niche specialization connected to speciation and diversity?   We take field ecological and community-genetic approaches to the study of diet and diversification in insect herbivores and their parasitoids (e.g. Stireman, Nason & Heard 2005), especially in the goldenrod (Solidago) system. We suspect that host-race formation and ecological speciation has played an important role in generating the astounding diversity of phytophagous insects.


·  How can our knowledge of plant-insect ecology be harnessed to help manage forest communities and forestry resources, in the face of threats from both native (e.g. spruce budworm) and invasive (e.g. brown spruce longhorn beetle) pests?  We work with colleagues in the Canadian Forest Service to connect fundamental questions in ecology and evolution to the management of the economically crucial forest industry (e.g. Dearborn et al. 2016, Pureswaran et al. 2016).


Other things that have attracted our interest recently include:


·  the ecology of insect host-choice errors (pdf)

·  the evolution of herbivore impact on plants (pdf)

·  the community ecology of invasive wood-boring beetles

·  sampling schemes for plant pests

·  the biogeography of plant defence (pdf)

·  impacts of herbivores on threatened plant populations (pdf)

·  links between spatial structure and plant-insect interactions (pdf)

·  relevance of plant ploidy to insect attack (pdf)

·  measurement of T-cell diversity responding to viral challenge (pdf)

·  history, culture, and practice of scientific writing (page)



The Heard Lab

Understanding ecological controls on the evolution of biodiversity

Insect image © Darrell Godliman of specimens at Oxford University Natural History Museum