Professor David Bilton
Professor of Aquatic Biology
School of Biological and Marine Sciences (Faculty of Science and Engineering)
Academic research and teaching
Postgraduate Research Coordinator, School of Biological and Marine Sciences
2016 - Professor of Aquatic Biology, Plymouth University
1996- 2016 Lecturer/Senior Lecturer/Reader in Aquatic Biology, Plymouth University
1993-1995 Research Fellow in Biological Sciences, University of York.
1993 Royal Society Research Fellow, University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
1992 Research Fellow in Genetics, Uppsala University, Sweden.
Education & Qualifications
2015 Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
1997 SEDA Accredited Teacher in Higher Education
1988-1991 PhD (Population Genetics), University of London
1990 MA Zoology, Oxford University
1985-1988 BA (Hons) Zoology (First Class), Oxford University - Gibbs Prize for the highest academic performance in year
Roles on external bodies
Associate Editor - Journal of Insect Conservation
Editorial Board - Psyche: A Journal of Entomology
Aquatic Coleoptera Conservation Trust - ACCT. ACCT was founded to promote and co-ordinate conservation and research work on threatened water beetles. Aquatic beetles are a diverse group, and are excellent indicators of habitat quality, age, and 'naturalness'. Around 400 species of British beetle live in water for a significant proportion of their lives, including the familiar diving beetles. Many species have shown significant and dramatic contractions in range since the mid 20th century, in response to a variety of factors, particularly agricultural intensification and associated drainage of wetlands and increases in diffuse pollution, leading to eutrophication. (Secretary) .
Ponds Advisory Council. International body concerned with the biology and conservation of small water bodies. Ponds harbour the vast majority of regional aquatic biodiversity in most countries, but are often ignored by ecologists, who study the larger (and often ecologically simpler!) lakes and rivers instead. (Member).
Balfour-Browne Club. Aquatic Coleoptera World specialist group, with over 200 members, who, like water beetles, are distributed on all continents except Antarctica. Co-ordinated from the UK. (Committee Member).
Grant Referee for NERC, BBSRC, Austrian Science Foundation.
Invited Referee for numerous journals, including: Molecular Ecology, Proceeding of the Royal Society Series B, Journal of Applied Ecology, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, Freshwater Biology, Conservation Genetics, Invertebrate Reproduction and Development, Functional Ecology, Hydrobiologia, Aquatic Conservation, Ecology Letters, Vie et Milieu, Annales Zoologici Fennici, Archive fur Hydrobiologie, Aquatic Insects, Diversity and Distributions, Ecography, Biological Conservation, Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, Estuaries, Journal of Biogeography, Ecological Entomology.
New animals I've named
Oniscus ancarensis Bilton, 1992
Terrestrial isopod (woodlouse), endemic to NW Spain
Oniscus asellus occidentalis Bilton, 1994
Terrestrial isopod (woodlouse), known from the UK, Ireland and France, first recognized in Dartmoor woodlands. Frequently hydridizes with the common Oniscus asellus asellus where the two meet.
Hydraena zezerensis Diaz-Pazos & Bilton, 1995
A hydraenid water beetle with elaborate male secondary sexual characters - endemic to a single headwater stream at the top of a glacial valley in Portugal's highest mountain massif, the Serra Estrela. Still known from knowhere else - one of the rarest water beetles in Europe.
Oniscus galicianus Bilton, 1997
Terrestrial isopod (woodlouse), endemic to NW Spain
Agabus picotae Foster & Bilton, 1997
Diving beetle, endemic to SW Portugal and Spain. Associated with wet rock faces beside headwater streams.
Hydraena hosseiniorum Bilton & Jach, 1998
Hydraenid water beetle endemic to the Zagros Mountains in western Iran - the most easterly member of its group.
Stictonectes rebeccae Bilton, 2012
A diving beetle endemic to the north and west of Spain and Portugal.
Discozantaena occidentalis Bilton & Perkins, 2012
A small 'water' beetle which has become secondarily terrestrial, living in damp litter by water. Known only from a single waterhole in West Coast National park, on the Western Cape of South Africa.
Pneuminion fontinalis Bilton & Perkins, 2012
Another small water beetle, restricted to permanent trickles of water, running like condensation on a window pane, in the high mountains near Paarl in the Western Cape of South Africa.
Crenitis bicolor Bilton, 2013
A hydrophilid water beetle so far only known from the high Kamiesberg in the Northern Cape of South Africa, an outlying fragment of the fynbos biome in arid Namaqualand.
Hydraena lotti Bilton, 2013
A small stream dwelling water beetle which I found to be common in high altitude streams in a very small area of the Taygetos Mountains in the Peloponnese, Greece. The 92 member of the "Haenydra" lineage, most of which are similarly narrow-ranged endemics. Its closest relatives are in eastern Greece and central Italy.
Prosthetops wolfbergensis Bilton, 2013
Yet another water beetle, which at 4.2 mm long is by far the largest known 'minute moss beetle' amongst the thousands described to date. Relatively widespread in the Western Cape mountains in South Africa, occurring in temporary pools where rainwater has dissolved bare rock. Named after the Wolfberg Arch, a striking geological feature of the Cederberg mountains, in whose shadow the beetle was abundant.
Sharphydrus brincki Bilton, 2013
A small diving beetle endemic to the Western Cape of South Africa, in mountain streams. The third known member of this genus, which is endemic to temperate South Africa. Named after the late Professor Per Brinck, who first collected this species in the early 1950s.
Sharphydrus kamiesbergensis Bilton, 2013
A small diving beetle so far only known from the high Kamiesberg in the Northern Cape of South Africa - the fourth known species of the genus.
Pterosthetops baini Bilton, 2014
A specialist of wet rock faces, living in a trickles of water and so far known from a single mountain pass in the Cape of South Africa. Named after the guy who directed the pass's construction in the 19th century, making accessible habitat available for these beetles in the process!
Pterosthetops coriaceus Bilton, 2014
A wet-rock seepage specialist, found only at a single site in the Cederberg mountains in South Africa.
Pterosthetops indwei Bilton, 2014
Another wet-rock seepage specialist, known from the Langeberg and Outeniquaberg mountains in South Africa - named after the Blue Crane, an iconic bird of this part of the Cape.
Pterosthetops pulcherrimus Bilton, 2014
Another wet-rock seepage specialist, this time known from one wet mountain pass in the Cederberg of South Africa. Named in reference to its strinking appearance, and the view form the type locality.
Pterosthetops swartbergensis Bilton, 2014
Another wet-rock seepage specialist, found, as its name suggests, in the Groote Swartberg, South Africa.
Pterosthetops tuberculatus Bilton, 2014
Yet another wet-rock seepage specialist - relatively widespread in the Western Cape, South Africa - on mountain passes.
Pterosthetops uitkyki Bilton, 2014
Again a wet-rock seepage specialist, known only from Uitkyk Pass in the Cederberg range, South Africa.
Laccobius leopardus Bilton & Gentili, 2014
Lives in pools in drying river margins on the edge of the Cederberg mountains in South Africa, an area transitional between fynbos and succulent karoo. Named after the leopards which frequent the area, and in reference to its spotted appearance.
Mesoceration hantam Bilton, 2014
From temporary pools and stream on the Hantamsberg, an inselberg in the Northern Cape of South Africa.
Parhydraena faeni Bilton, 2014
Again from temporary pools and stream on the Hantamsberg, an inselberg in the Northern Cape of South Africa.
Yola matsikammae Bilton, 2015
From a stream on the Matsikammaberg, another inselberg, this time on the northern edge of the Fynbos biome in the Western Cape of South Africa.
Capelatus prykei Turner & Bilton, 2015
An entirely new lineage of diving beetle from close to Cape Town. Not related to anything else in sub-Saharan Africa, its closest relatives being in the Mediterranean and Australasia. Also highly endangered by ongoing urbanisation and habitat loss.
Canthyporus namaqualacrimus Bilton, 2015
The name translates as "the tears of Namaqualand". A diving beetle known from seepages over rock in the highest mountains of this arid region of the Northern Cape. These summits present a mesic island in an otherwise semi-desert landscape, and a re home to many endemics.
Canthyporus pallidus Bilton, 2015
A small diving beetle of wet rock seepages and small rockpools on mountains around the edges of Namaqualand, South Africa.
Mesoceration caniplenum Bilton, 2015
A water beetle from trickling streams in the SE of the Drakensberg, South Africa. It's name is in reference to the type locality, Injisuthi, which means 'place of the well-fed dog' in isiZulu, in reference to the formerly abundant game of this area.
Mesoceration foggoi Bilton, 2015
A water beetle endemic to a table mountain at the northern end of the Fynbos biome in South Africa, where it is common in almost all running waters. Named after Andy Foggo, who helped collect it.
Mesoceration helmei Bilton, 2015
Known only from the high Winterhoek mountains in the Cape, in a small stream which spends a couple of months every year under snow. Named after Nick Helme, the South African botanist who dragged me up this mountain!
Mesoceration hirsutum Bilton, 2015
Yet another new species from the Cederberg Mountains, South Africa. Only known from the holotype, in a high altitude stream, where it lived with nine other members of the genus.
Mesoceration rugulosum Bilton, 2015
Known only from a wet rockface beside a mountain stream above Franschhoek, South Africa.
Mesoceration sinclairi Bilton, 2015
Common in a stream flowing down the Kogelberg into False Bay, in the far SW Cape of South Africa. Names after my old friend Magnus Sinclair.
Coelometopon glenavoni Bilton, 2015
Found on wet cliffs in the pray zone of Glen Avon Falls, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Eyes raised up like a hippo so that it can see out of the water film in which it lives.
Oomtelecopon disjunctum Bilton, 2015
A beetle from damp rocks beside a road close to Ceres in the Western Cape - the third new species so far from this place. It's only close relative lives close to Cape Town.
Oomtelecopon namaqum Bilton, 2016
A beetle from damp rocks beside a stream in the Kamiesberg mountains - an area of relatively high rainfall, supporting fynbos, in Namaqualand.
Pterostetops nitidus Bilton, 2016
Wet rockface specialist from the eastern side of False Bay, Western Cape Province, South Africa.
Anacaena namaqua Bilton & Komarek, 2016
A common species where it occurs, in both pools and streams, in the area where the fynbos biome meets the succulent karoo in South Africa.
Hydrobiomorpha perissinottoi Bilton, 2016
The first species of this genus of relatively large water scavenger beetles reliably reported from South Africa. Common in iSimangaliso Wetland Park in the NE of the country.
Leielmis gibbosus Bilton, 2017
A relatively common riffle beetle in Western Cape mountain streams, which has previously been overlooked.
Leielmis hirsutus Bilton, 2017
One high altitude stream at ca. 1,200 m in the Western cape of South Africa. Common there.
Pterosthetops chrysomallus Bilton, 2017
Wet rock faces on the Bokkeveld Plateau, at the northern fringes of the Fynbos Biome in South Africa.
Parasthetops porcellus Bilton, 2017
Widespread on the Bokkeveld Plateau, at the northern fringes of the Fynbos Biome in South Africa.
Mesoceration castaneus Bilton, 2017
One male from a stream on the Bokkeveld Plateau, at the northern fringes of the Fynbos Biome in South Africa.
Mesoceration chasmum Bilton, 2017
Found in Oorlogskloof Canyon, on the Bokkeveld Plateau, at the northern fringes of the Fynbos Biome in South Africa.
Mesoceration sabulosum Bilton, 2017
Two steams over sand on the Bokkeveld Plateau, at the northern fringes of the Fynbos Biome in South Africa.
Meladema lepidoptera Bilton & Ribera, 2017
A cryptic sibling of the widespread large diving beetle Meladema coriacea. First detected from DNA sequence data, and subsequently found to differ morphologically as well. Restricted to parts of Italy and the Tuscan Archipelago.
Parhydraena cataracta Bilton, 2018
Semi-terrestrial 'water' beetle from permanently wet plant litter beside a mountain waterfall in the Hex River Mountains, South Africa. Closest relative is endemic to Table Mountain.
Approximately 20 additional water beetles and a millipede are in the system........
New animals named after me
Armadilloniscus biltoni Taiti & Ferrara, 1989
A terrestrial isopod (woodlouse) found in the entrance to a sea cave on the Togian Islands, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Althepus biltoni Deeleman-Reinhold, 1995
A spider from forests on the Togian Islands, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Neptosternus biltoni Hendrich and Balke, 1997
A small diving beetle from forest streams on one of the Togian Islands, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. The adjacent island had a different species, also new to science at the time.
Deronectes biltoni Fery & Hosseinie, 1998
A diving beetle endemic to mountains in northern Iran, close to the Caspian Sea.
Helophorus biltoni Angus, Mahdizadeh & Hosseinie, 2005
A small crawling water beetle endemic to the Zagros Mountains in western Iran, where I first collected it in the late 1990s. It has close relatives on the Golan Heights, and in Spain.
Hydraena biltoni Jach & Diaz-Pazos, 2012
A small water beetle currently known only from a handful of places in central Montenegro. Closely related to the widespread Hydraena morio, which also occurs in the region, but not, so far, in the same localities.
Galicisoma biltoni Mauries, 2015
A winter-active millipede I found back in 1993 in a relict Atlantic oak woodland in Galicia in the far northwest of Spain.
Ochthebius biltoni Jach & Delgado, 2017
A marine rockpool species I found in Sicily a few years ago.
Another water beetle and a centipede are currently on their way..........
I am interested in a range of questions related to biogeography, conservation and evolution, particularly using aquatic invertebrates as models. Much of my teaching reflects my research interests, covering topics such as macroecology and biogeography, aquatic conservation, biological species concepts and speciation, and arthropod zoology. I teach on courses to all three undergraduate years, and supervise a range of BSc and MSc/MRes projects.
MBIO121 Life on Earth - Overview of the diversity of life, covering microbes, fungi, algae, plants and animals, plus some material on behaviour. I cover the arthropods - the most important animals on earth. Also Module Leader.
MBIO120 Introduction to Marine Biology - What it says on the tin. I am heavily involved in field week, and lead field sampling trips to a number of locations in the region.
MBIO123 Marine Biology Field Course - I attend this residential course in Brittany each year, and do some of the taxonomy practicals before we go.
BIOL214 Ecology - An up-to-date exploration of the fundamental principles of population and community ecology. I teach community ecology from a large-scale, or macroecological, perspective, examining the assembly of communities, island biogeography, adaptive radiation, biodiversity and ecosystem function, and asking why most species are rare, and why there are there are more species of organisms in the tropics?
MBIO213 Coastal Biodiversity and Ecology Fieldcourse - An exploration of biodiversity in a coastal setting, currently in one of the World's Biodiversity Hotspots, on the western Cape of South Africa. I attend this residential course each year.
MBIO324 Speciation and Diversity - What is a species? How do new species originate? What generates and maintains the diversity of life? How do we quantify this biodiversity? What are the ecological and evolutionary processes which underpin global patterns in biodiversity? Does biodiversity matter? An up-to-date exploration of the nature and generation of biological diversity, examining model taxa from a wide range of habitats and groups. I co-ordinate this course and teach biological species concepts and speciation.
BIOL304 Global Change Biology - what it says on the tin. Mostly on the causes and consequences of current global change. I deliver three lectures on Quaternary climate change and biological responses to ice ages, to give a wider historical/evolutionary context to ongoing change.
I supervise a range of projects in aquatic biology, ecology and evolution - typically 6-10 students per year.
Module leader for:
MBIO121 Life on Earth
MBIO324 Speciation and Diversity
My work addresses a range of questions in aquatic biology, using both freshwater and marine organisms as model systems, but with a particular focus on water beetles. Much of my research focuses on attempts to understand the geographical distribution and evolutionary differentiation of organisms at a number of spatial scales. Specific areas of interest include:
Macroecology and macrophysiology of aquatic invertebrates. What determines relative geographical range size - why are most species rare? Testing hypotheses of rarity, using selected clades of aquatic insects as model systems. Investigation of thermal tolerance across clades containing both widespread and restricted endemic taxa. Unravelling the mechanisms underlying differences in thermal tolerance.
Ecology and conservation of temporary waters. The invertebrate assemblages of temporary and fluctuating water bodies. Exploration of factors structuring communities at regional and local scales. The use of aquatic insects as biodiversity surrogates and indicator taxa in conservation.
Dispersal biology of aquatic invertebrates. Causes and consequences of dispersal in aquatic invertebrates.
Ecology and conservation of aquatic Coleoptera (water beetles). Evolution and ecology of aquatic beetles. Sexual conflict in diving beetles. Conservation biology of threatened taxa. Use of aquatic beetles as surrogates in ecosystem assessment and monitoring. Water beetle systematics and phylogeny.
Current projects include:
Ecophysiology of European water beetles. Determinants of range size and ecological range. Collaborators: Ignacio Ribera (CSIC, Barcelona); Andres Millan (Universidad de Murcia).
Oxygen limitation in aquatic arthropods. Does oxygen limitation set thermal limits in aquatic arthropods, and does respiratory mode influence this? Collaborator: Dr Wilco Verberk (Radboud University, Netherlands).
Systematics and Biodiversity of South African water beetles. Fieldwork in poorly known areas of this biodiverse region is combined with taxonomic and systematic work, which has resulted in the discovery of numerous new species and genera. Collaborators: Prof. Renzo Perissonotto (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, South Africa), Manfred Jach (Vienna Natural History Museum, Austria), Michael Balke (Zoologische Staatsammlung, Munich, Germany), Ignacio Ribera (CSIC, Barcelona).
Conservation biology of threatened aquatic beetles
Ecology and conservation of UK Biodiversity Action Plan species. In association with the Aquatic Coleoptera Conservation Trust.
Sexual conflict in diving beetles
Inter-relationships between male and female morphology in sexually dimorphic taxa; evolution and biogeography of sexual dimorphism in dytiscids.
Current PhD Students
Balbina Ramsay. Tardigrade spatial ecology in the Andes. (Supervised with Simon Rundle).
Recent Lab Visitors
Dr Pedro Abellán (University de Murcia)
Dr David Sanches-Fernandez (University de Murcia)
Dr Maragrita Florencio (Doñana Biological Station, Seville)
Dr Juan-Carlos Guitterez Estrada (University of Huelva)
Dr Félix Picazo Mota (University of Murcia)
Dr Cristina Coccia (Doñana Biological Station, Seville)
Dr Paula Arribas (University of Murcia)
Dr Simone Guareschi (University of Murcia)
Dr Jose Carbonell (University of Murcia)
Dr Susana Pallares (University of Murcia)
Prof Luis-Felipe Valladares (University of Leon)
Vanessa Cespedes (Doñana Biological Station, Seville)
Research degrees awarded to supervised students
Dr Lucy Kelly . Dispersal, Genetic Differentiation and Community Composition of Insular Stream Invertebrates. (Supervised with Simon Rundle). Awarded 2001.
Dr Louise McAbendroth . Mediterranean Temporary Ponds in the UK: Ecology, Status and Management. (Supervised with Simon Rundle and Andy Foggo ). Awarded 2004.
Dr Punyasloke Bhadury . Molecular resolution of marine nematode biodiversity: Development of a rapid assessment technique. (Supervised with Mel Austin & Gary Smerdon, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and John Lambshead, Natural History Museum, London). Awarded 2006.
Dr Ena Mata-Zayas. The distribution of phylogenetic diversity of mammals in Mexico and its implications for conservation. (Supervised with Miguel Franco). Awarded 2007.
Dr Victor Aguirre-Hidalgo . Demographic and genetic diversity of the Mexican black iguana Ctenosaura pectinata. (Supervised with Miguel Franco). Awarded 2008.
Dr Sonia Fontani . Genetic biodiversity of the European barnacle Chthalamus montagui. (Supervised with John Bishop). Awarded 2009.
Dr Tony Bicknell. Population biology of Leach's storm petrel. (Supervised with Steven Votier and Mairi Knight). Awarded 2011.
Dr Nigel Marley. Biology of Tardigrada. Awarded 2011.
Dr Rebekah Cioffi. Understanding rarity and latitudinal range size relationships in European diving beetles (Dytiscidae) using metabolic plasticity and immunocopmetence. (Supervised with John Moody and Richard Billington). Awarded 2017.
Dr John Thorpe. Biogeograohy of rocky plateaus in the Western Ghats, India. (Supervised with Mairi Knight). Awarded 2018.
Grants & contracts
2017-2019 CAVEHheAT - Climate change, thermal niche and conservation of subterranean biodiversity. Co-I with David Sanchez-Fernandez (Universidade de Castille la Mancha, Spain) (EURO 368,000)
2016-2019 Conservation biology of Europe's most threatened water beetles
Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund PI ($8,000)
2014-2017 The evolution of habitat transitions in aquatic Coleoptera. Co-I with Ignacio Ribera (CSIC, Barcelona) and Andres Millan & Josefina Velasco (Universidad de Murcia). CSIC (EURO 266, 200)
2013-2016 Jack of all trades, master of all? Physiological niche, immunocompetence metabolic plasticity and the evolution of geographical range size
University of Plymouth (ca. £72,000 - Competitive PhD Studentship)
2011-2015 Integrating ecophysiological and evolutionary aspects to undersatnd past, present and future distributions of Iberian hypersaline beetles
Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation PI: Josefa Velasco García, Murcia, Spain. Co-PIs : David Bilton (University of Plymouth, UK), Andres Millan(Universidad de Murcia), Ignacio Ribera (CSIC, Barcelona)
2011-2013 Evolution of the thermal tolerance in Pleistocene range expansions of aquatic Coleoptera from Mediterranean refugia
Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation PI: Ignacio Ribera, Barcelona, Spain. Co-PIs: David Bilton (University of Plymouth, UK), Josefina Garrido (Universidad de Vigo), Luis Felipe Valladares (Universidad de León)
2010-2012 RESPIRE - Climate-driven oxygen limitation in freshwater macroinvertebrates
European Union Marie Curie Fellowship (Euro 180,103) for Dr Wilco Verberk
2009-2011 Oxygen deficiency in stream ectotherms
Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research Rubicon Fellowship (Euro 97,060) for Dr Wilco Verberk
2009-2012 THESEUS: Innovative technologies for safer European coasts in a changing climate
European Union (Euro 250,000) Co-PI with R.C. Thompson, S.D. Rundle & M Hanley
2007-2010 Population genetics of grazing marsh invertebrates
Esmée Fairbairn Foundation (£38,000) PI
2007-2010 Biodiversity of lower, tidally-influenced river reaches
Esmée Fairbairn Foundation (£128,000) Co-PI with S.D. Rundle & M.J. Attrill
2007-2010 The evolution of the size of the geographical range as a key factor in the generation of biodiversity.
Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation PI: Ignacio Ribera, Barcelona, Spain. Co-PIs: David Bilton (University of Plymouth, UK), Josefina Garrido (Universidad de Vigo), Juan Angel Díaz-Pazos (Universidad de Santiago de Compostela), Luis Felipe Valladares (Universidad de León), Michael Balke (Zoologische Staatssammlung München).
2008-2009 Thermal adaptation in ectotherms: linking life history, physiology, behaviour and genetics
European Science Foundation ThermAdapt Programme, collaboration Short Visit grant (working with Ignacio Ribera, Barcelona) (Euro 750) PI
2006-2008 What determines a species' geographic range? Physiology and range size relationships in European diving beetles.
Leverhulme Trust (£51,000) PI
2005-2008 Neutral theories to explain genetic diversity of aquatic insects
NERC (£272,000) Co-PI with A.P. Vogler & T.G. Barraclough, Natural History Museum & Imperial College, London
1999-2004 Status, ecology and management of Mediterranean Temporary Ponds in the UK
English Nature & UoP (£32,000 - £18,000 each) PI & DoS (supervised with Simon Rundle)
1999-2000 Molecular solutions to previously intractable aspects of trophic ecology NERC new investigator’s grant (£25,654) PI
Key publications are highlightedJournals