James Fordyce


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

Research Interests

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”.


  • Fordyce, J.A. 2006. The evolutionary significance of ecological interactions mediated through phenotypic plasticity. Journal of Experimental Biology 209:2377-2383
  • Gompert, Z., J.A. Fordyce, M.L. Forister, A.M. Shapiro, & C.C. Nice. 2006. Homoploid hybrid speciation in an extreme habitat. Science 314:1923-1925.
  • Crutsinger, G.M., M.D. Collins, J.A. Fordyce, Z. Gompert, C.C. Nice, & N.J. Sanders. 2006. Genotypic diversity predicts community structure and governs an ecosystem process. Science 313:966-968.
  • Fordyce, J.A., C.C. Nice, & A.M. Shapiro. 2006. A novel trade-off of insect diapause involving a sequestered chemical defence. Oecologia 149:101-106.
  • Fordyce, J.A. & C.C. Nice. 2004. Geographic variation in clutch size and a realized benefit of aggregative feeding. Evolution 58:447-450.