Year of Honorary Fellowship, 2018
Paul Brakefield is an evolutionary biologist who studies butterflies and other insects. He is particularly interested in the effects of their development and physiology on natural selection. Paul has shown that changes that occur through evolution are shaped by interplay between an organism’s environment and the genes controlling their development.
Focusing on the wings of specific types of butterfly, Paul revealed that at least five or six different genes control the development of eyespots — eye-like markings. In addition, plasticity in development yields different eyespot patterns in wet and dry seasons, providing the butterfly with season-appropriate camouflaging. Paul is now researching patterns and processes in several parallel radiations of some 300 species of mycalesine butterflies in the Old World Tropics.
Paul’s eyespot experiment is now considered to be a classic by the field of evolutionary developmental biology. In parallel with his research, Paul is the Director of the University Museum of Zoology at the University of Cambridge. He is also President of the Tropical Biology Association and the Linnean Society of London.