Jonathan Silvertown is Professor of Evolutionary Ecology in the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Edinburgh and holds the Chair of Technology-Enhanced Science Education in the School of Biological Sciences in Edinburgh.
He read for a degree in Biological Sciences at the University of Sussex and was inspired there by Prof. John Maynard Smith, one of the pre-eminent evolutionary biologists of the 20th Century. Ever since, he has viewed the natural world through a Darwinian lens. After his first degree, Jonathan stayed on at Sussex to do a PhD with the aim of discovering why the famous chalk grasslands of the South Downs are so rich in plant species. Explaining this diversity is a fascinating challenge to any Darwinist because you would expect the struggle for existence of which Darwin wrote to result in just one or two species succeeding at the expense of all the rest. Why this doesn’t usually happen and why, therefore, the natural world is so richly-stocked with plants was explored in Jonathan’s first popular science book Demons in Eden (Chicago University Press, 2008).
From the University of Sussex, Jonathan went to the Open University in Milton Keynes where he began his career in research, teaching and public outreach, leaving in 2014 to join the University of Edinburgh.
He is the author of numerous research publications in the field of plant population biology including the leading textbook. He is also a popular science author and his most recent title is The Long And The Short Of It: The science of lifespan and aging (Chicago University Press 2013), which discusses how the evolutionary principles that underly the determination of lifespan and the causes of aging are illuminated by examining all species including humans – and even plants. A reviewer in the health section of the New York Times wrote of the book that: “Jonathan Silvertown has managed to distill the thousands of years of thought and research behind this and many related biologic questions into a small book so captivating and enlightening that — unusual for a volume packed with difficult scientific concepts — you will read it for pure pleasure”.
Jonathan has just completed a new book to be published in September 2017 by Chicago University Press: Dinner with Darwin. How food and drink evolved and influenced our evolution.
He has devised several citizen science web projects that crowdsource biological data. iSpotnature.org is a social network that rapidly and accurately identifies observations of any species of wildlife. Half a million observations and 30,000 species have been identified to date. Evolutionmegalab.org is an online survey of polymorphism and evolution in banded snails that operates throughout Europe. Treezilla.org – The Monster Map of Trees – aims to map all the trees in Britain and calculate the value of their ecosystem services.
He is now working on a new infrastructure for citizen inquiry called Edinburgh Cityscope (http://www.edinburghcityscope.org) that will enable students and the public to collect, access and analyse data of all kinds in the city and its environs.
The British Ecological Society Awarded Prof. Silvertown its ‘Ecological Engagement Award’ for 2011. The Award recognises an “exceptional contribution to facilitating the use and understanding of ecology”.