Dr Jon Ellis

Dr Jon Ellis

Lecturer in Conservation Genetics

School of Biological and Marine Sciences (Faculty of Science and Engineering)


Lecturer in Conservation Genetics

Contact: jonathan.s.ellis@plymouth.ac.uk


  • 2013 - present; Lecturer in Environmental Science then Lecturer in Conservation Genetics, Plymouth University
  • 2011 - 2013; Lecturer in Molecular Conservation Biology, MMU
  • 2010 - 2011; Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Plymouth University
  • 2008-2010; Associate Research Fellow, Exeter University
  • 2008 Experiential Learning Development Project, Plymouth University
  • 2006 - 2007; Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Plymouth University
  • 2002-2005; PhD. Population Genetics and Ecology of Rare Bumblebees in the UK
  • 1999-2002; BSc. (Hons) Zoology with Animal Ecology, University of Wales, Bangor

Professional membership

Member Genetics Society

Member British Ecological Society

Teaching interests

Teaching interests

  • conservation biology and conservation genetics,
  • molecular ecology,
  • evolution & biodiversity,
  • terrestrial invertebrate ecology, esp. insects and moss invertebrates

I teach on undergraduate and postgraduate courses in biological and environmental sciences. This includes residential field courses in the UK and abroad, practical classes, tutorials and lectures as well as supervising undergraduate and postgraduate research projects.

I am also the Senior Tutor in the School of Biological and Marine Sciences. I believe that science students should leave university with new conceptual knowledge, improved academic and practical skills, enhanced critical thinking and an analytical mindset, but also improved grit, resilience and determination with a good mindset for life's future challenges.

Research interests

I am interested in molecular ecology and the use of genetic tools to study natural populations, as well as the evolution of biodiversity and its conservation. I am especially interested in insects, but also fish and (more recently) fungi.

My previous research has involved assessing genetic diversity, gene-flow and population structure in declining populations of bumblebee species. I have also developed molecular tools to identify cryptic species of bumblebee and to identify wireworms (which are significant agricultural pests of potato). In addition to work on insects, I have also been involved in a large-scale research project to help understand the marine ecology of Atlantic salmon (the ‘SALSEA-Merge’ project). More recently, work focused on identifying patterns of selection at potential candidate loci involved in immunity and metabolism in bees.

Current and recent projects include: 

(1) Conservation genetics of the hazel dormouse with Fraser Combe and Dr Ed Harris (MMU). Co-Investigator.

Fraser recently completed his PhD at Manchester Metropolitan under Dr Ed Harris (DoS). Fraser was examining landscape and conservation genetics of the hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) in the UK. He worked closely with a number of wildlife trusts, but particularly with Dr Simone Bullion at Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

(2) Population genetics of the colonization of the UK by Bombus hypnorum with Dr Mairi Knight (Plymouth University), Dr Vanessa Huml, Kirsty Lloyd and Dr Mark Brown (Royal Holloway). Co-Investigator.

This project is examining the population genetics of the colonisation and subsequent expansion of Bombus hypnorum in the UK.

(3) Adaptive conservation genomics of European grayling with Vanessa Huml, Dr Ed Harris, Dr Martin Taylor (UEA), Dr Robin Sen (MMU) and the Grayling Research Trust. P.I.

Vanessa's Ph.D project examined genetic diversity of MHC loci in European grayling (Thymallus thymallus) in relation to bacterial and environmental parameters as well as in contrast to neutral variation, using next-generation sequencing approaches. Vanessa is now a post-doc in our group and continues to publish her recent work.

(4) Ecological restoration of china clay mining sites with Mary Lane, Dr Michael Hanley, Dr Charlotte Braungardt, Dr Mairi Knight and Dr Paul Lunt and Sibelco. P.I.

Mary is working on the ecological restoration of heathland after china clay extraction. Her PhD is part-funded by Sibelco. Her work involves the investigation of the role of mycorrhizal fungi as well as metal nutrients. It involves laboratory work and field-scale trials

(5) 'Bringing back black bees', NERC-CASE studentship with Victoria Buswell, Dr Mairi Knight, Dr Vanessa Huml, B4. Co-Investigator.

 Victoria is investigating the phenotypic and genotypic basis of local adaptation in UK populations of the dark European honey bee, Apis mellifera mellifera. Collaborative work with Washington State University is planned on cryopreservation of honey bee sperm.

(6) Modelling insect dispersal with Dr Rich Billington, Dr Mairi Knight and Joe Eva. Co-Investigator.

Joe has just started his Ph.D and will be investigating morphometry, wind, weather and climate in relation to insect dispersal and invasions.

(7) Genetic diversity, immunity and parasite load in widespread versus declining bumblebee species with Sarah Rustage. Dr Mairi Knight, Dr Richard Billington and Dr Mark Borwn (Royal Holloway). Co-Investigator.

Sarah recently completed her PhD examining genetic diversity and fitness (parasite load and immunocompetence) in Bombus monticola (in contrast to the closely related but widespread B. pratorum). The project is currently being followed up by NGS RAD-Seq of Bombus monticola populations (Dr Vanessa Huml) Research outputs are in prep.

The beauty of molecular tools is that they can be broadly applied across a wide range of taxa. If you have research interests on any group that you feel match my interests I am very happy to discuss potential PhD studentship applications, post-doctoral research or other collaborations

Grants & contracts

Grants and awards


£5836 Seale-Hayne Educational Trust ‘Ecological restoration of mineral extraction sites: role of mycobiont in ericaceous plant growth on restored mine spoil’. Funds to support PhD research of Mary Lane on ecological restorationof china clay sites.

£10712 ‘The application of a novel population genomic approach to provide fresh insights into the causes of rarity among a major UK pollinator group’ PI Mairi Knight.


£4118 Seale-Hayne Educational Trust ‘Maintaining sustainability of natural resources’

Funds to support next-generation sequencing of hatchery reared grayling

Internal faculty-wide PhD studentship competition MMU, plus £10,000 Grayling Research Trust. ‘Assessing adaptive genetic variation for effective conservation and management of European Grayling’

£4870 Research accelerator grant. ‘Adaptive conservation genomics of an important insect pollinator’. Internal grant competition MMU.

£1080 Society of Biology, Undergraduate Research Bursary. Identifying evolutionary significant units in the hazel dormouse.

NERC quota studentship. ‘Neutral and functional genetic variation, parasite load and immunocompetence in social insects’. Co-applicant with Dr. Mairi Knight on a successful bid for an internal PhD studentship, Plymouth University.

£72990 Leverhulme trust, ‘Neutral versus functional genetic diversity: a new conservation genetic agenda’ (P.I. Dr Mairi Knight, University of Plymouth; named researcher, Jonathan Ellis).

£6340 Seale-Hayne Educational Trust ‘Development of molecular techniques to further understanding of wireworm ecology’ (with Prof. Rod Blackshaw).

£300 Genetics Society travel grant (conference attendance).

Key publications are highlighted


Huml, J.V., Harris, W.E., Taylor, M.I., Sen, R., Prudhomme, C., Ellis, J.S. Pollution control can help mitigate future climate change impact on European grayling in the UK. Diversity and Distributions 26, 517-532

Lane, M., Hanley, M.E., Lunt, P., Knight, M.E., Braungardt, C.B., Ellis, J.S. Chronosequence of former kaolinite open cast mines suggests active intervention is required for the restoration of Atlantic heathland. Restoration Ecology

Huml, J.V., Taylor M.I., Harris W. Edwin., Sen, R. & Ellis, J.S. (2018) Neutral variation does not predict immunogenetic variation in the European grayling (Thymallus thymallus) - implications for management. Molecular Ecology 10.1111/mec.14864

Ellis, J.S., Soland-Reckeweg G., Buswell V.G., Huml J.V., Brown A., Knight M.E. (2018) Introgression in native populations of Apis mellifera mellifera L. implications for conservation. Journal of Insect Conservation doi: 10.1007/s10841-018-0067-7

Gilbey J., Coughlan J., Wennevik V., Prodohl P., Stevens J.R., Garcia de Leaniz C., Ensing D., Cauwelier E., Cherbonnel C., Consuegra S., Coulson M.W., Cross T.F., Crozier W., Dillane E., Ellis J.S., Garcia-Vazques E., Griffiths M., Gudjonsson S., Hindar K., Karlsson S., Knox D., Machado_Schiaffino, Meldrup D., Nielsen E.E., Olafsson K., Primmer C.R., Pusov S., Stradmeyer L, Vaha j-P., Veselow A. J., Webster L.M.I., McGinnity P., Verspoor E. (2018) A microsatellite baseline for genetic stock identification of European Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar L.) ICES Journal of Marine Science 75: 662-674

Firth, L.B., Grant L.M., Crowe T.P., Ellis J.S., Wiler C., Convery C., O'Connor N.E. (2017) Factors affecting the prevalence of the trematode parasite Echinostephilla patellae (Lebour, 1911) in the limpet Patella vulgata (L.) Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jembe.2017.01.026

Combe,F.J., Ellis, J.S., Lloyd, K.L., Cain, B., Wheater, C.P., Harris, W. E.(2016) After the ice age: the impact of post-glacial dispersal on thephylogeography of a small mammal, Muscardinus avellanarius. Frontiers inEcology and Evolution 4:72

Ellis, J.S., Turner, L.M, Knight, M.E. Lack of variation at phosphoglucose isomerase (Pgi) in bumblebees: implications for conservation genetics studies. PLoS One 8: e65600

Benefer , C.M., van Herk, WG, Ellis, JS, Blackshaw, RP, Vernon RS, Knight ME (2013) The molecular identification and genetic diversity of economically important wireworm species (Coleoptera: Elateridae) in Canada. Journal of Pest Science 86: 19-27

Cooper, E.M., Lunt, P.H., Ellis, J.S., & Knight, M.E. (online 2012) Biogeographical patterns of variation in western European populations of the Great Green Bush-cricket (Tettigonia viridissima; Orthoptera Tettigoniidae). Journal of Insect Conservation. DOI 10.1007/s10841-012-9525-9

Ellis, J.S, Turner, L.M., Knight, M.E. (2012) Patterns of selection and polymorphism of innate immunity genes in bumblebees (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Genetica 140: 205-217

Benefer, C., Knight, M.E., Ellis, J.S., Hicks, H., Blackshaw, R. (2012) Understanding the relationship between adult and larval Agriotes distributions: the effect of sampling method, species identification and abiotic variables Applied Soil Ecology 53: 39-48

Griffiths, A.M., Ellis, J.S., Clifton-Dey, D., Machado- Schiaffino, G., Bright, D., Garcia-Vazquez, E. & Stevens, J.R. (2011) Restoration versus recolonisation; the origin of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.) currently in the River Thames. Biological Conservation 144: 2733-2738

Ellis J.S. , Gilbey J. , Armstrong A., Balstad T., Cauwelier C., Cherbonnel C., Consuegra S., Coughlan J., Cross T.F., Crozier W., Dillane E., Ensing D., García de Leániz C., García- Vázquez E., Griffiths A.M., Hindar K., Hjorleifsdottir S., Knox D., Machado-Schiaffino G., McGinnity P., Meldrup D., Nielsen E.E., Olafsson K., Primmer C.R., Prodohl P., Stradmeyer L., Vähä J-P., Verspoor E., Wennevik V. and Stevens J. R. (2011) Microsatellite standardization and genotyping error in a large multi-partner research programme for conservation of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.) Genetica 139: 353-367.

Ellis, J.S., Sumner, K., Bright, D. & Stevens, J.R.(2011) Population genetic structure of Atlantic salmon populations (Salmo salar L.) in the River Tamar catchment, UK. Fisheries Management and Ecology 18: 233-245

Benefer, C., Andrew, P., Blackshaw, R., Ellis, J. & Knight, M (2010). The spatial distribution of phytophagous insect larvae in grassland soils. Applied Soil Ecology 45: 269-274

Ellis, J.S., Blackshaw, R.P., Parker, W.E., Hicks, H. & Knight, M.E. (2009) Genetic identification of morphologically cryptic agricultural pests. Agricultural and Forest Entomology 11: 115-121

Ellis, J.S., Knight, M.E., Darvill, B., & Goulson, D. (2006b) Extremely low effective population sizes, genetic structuring and reduced genetic diversity in a threatened bumblebee species, Bombus sylvarum (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Molecular Ecology 15: 4375-4386

Goulson, D., Hanley, M.E., Darvill, B. & Ellis, J.S. (2006) Biotope associations and the decline of bumblebees (Bombus spp.). Journal of Insect Conservation 10: 95-103

Darvill B., Ellis, J.S., Lye, G.C. & Goulson, D. (2006) Population structure and inbreeding in a rare and declining bumblebee, Bombus muscorum, (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Molecular Ecology 15: 601-611

Ellis, J.S., Knight, M.E., Carvell, C. & Goulson, D. (2006) Cryptic species identification: a simple diagnostic tool for discriminating between two problematic bumblebee species. Molecular Ecology Notes 6: 540-542

Ellis, J.S., Knight, M.E. & Goulson, D. (2005) Delineating species for conservation using mitochondrial sequence data: the taxonomic status of two Bombus species (Hymenoptera: Apidae). Journal of Insect Conservation 9: 75-83

Peat, J., Darvill, B., Ellis, J. & Goulson, D. (2005) Effects of climate on intra- and inter-specific size variation in bumblebees. Functional Ecology 19: 145-151

Goulson, D., Hanley, M.E., Darvill, B., Ellis, J.S. & Knight, M.E. (2005) Causes of rarity in bumblebees. Biological Conservation 122: 1-8.

Goulson, D., Darvill, B., Ellis, J.S., Knight, M.E. & Hanley, M.E. (2004) Interspecific differences in response to novel landmarks in bumblebees. Apidologie 35: 619-622

Additional information

In my spare time I am a keen cyclist (roadie) and used to compete at an amateur level on the local scene as part of Team Certini. I now ride and race for Plymouth Corinthian CC. I also enjoy reading, especially Russian literature. I am trying to learn Russian and Polish. 


Bumblebee conservation trust

BWARS, the bees, wasps and ants recording society