Matthew Pennell

Associate Professor

In my work, I seek to understand the history of life at the grandest of scales: why have some groups accumulated so much lineage and phenotypic diversity while other branches of the Tree of Life are represented by only a few species or a few forms? 

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    Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Biodiversity Theory and Informatics

    Affiliate Professor, Department of Statistics 

    Associate Member, Department of Botany 


    Izaak Killam Memorial and NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow, UBC| July 2015 - July 2016


    Ph.D. Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, University of Idaho | May 2015

    B.Sc. (Honours) Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University | May 2010


I am fascinated by life’s variety and seek general explanations for how it arose and how it is maintained. A basic premise of my research is that these two aims are interdependent: what we see today is the result of ecological and evolutionary processes operating in concert across ‘deep time’. In my research, I build theory, statistical methods, and computational tools to investigate how the interactions of these processes have played out over history. I have a particular fondness for phylogenetic trees, the historical pattern of branching that connects organisms to one another, and work to understand what these can tell us about the long-term dynamics of evolutionary change. To complement this work, I also develop general informatics tools for handling, manipulating, and sharing biodiversity data.

Current projects in my group include:

  • Reconciling rates of evolutionary change measured across different time scales
  • Measuring macroevolutionary rates for complex phenotypes, such as reaction norms and gene expression
  • Constructing ecological models for adaptive radiation
  • Developing a graphical framework for causal inference in comparative biology

You can check out past and ongoing projects on my GitHub page.

2019 Theodosius Dobzhansky Prize

For Research

Society for the Study of Evolution

Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigators Award

For Research

American Society of Naturalists