Biology / Biomedical Sciences
School of Environmental Sciences / Life Sciences

Dr Isabella Capellini

Isabella Capellini

Senior Lecturer in Vertebrate Zoology

School of Biological, Biomedical and Environmental Sciences

  • Research
  • Teaching
  • Key Publications
  • Brief CV
  • Administrative duties
  • NERC NI Grant


I am interested in large scale patterns and processes underlying the evolution of animal diversity, and in particular in how ecology shapes variation in morphology, physiology and behaviour among species. A distinctive aspect of my work is its interdisciplinary nature and focus on key biological characteristics, such as sleep and the placenta in mammals, that are studied in clinical context but whose evolution and ecology are very little understood. Using a macroevolutionary approach and state of art phylogenetic comparative methods, I study the ultimate costs and benefits of these important biological traits and integrate them within broader ecological and evolutionary theories, such as life history theory, parent-offspring conflict, metabolic theory of ecology.

More recently I have started to investigate what ‘makes’ a successful invasive species, a question of interest in both basic and applied science. This NERC funded project tests hypotheses on how ecological and life history traits promote invasion success in vertebrates, and how humans bias the likelihood that some species are introduced into novel regions.

I have also expanded my work on mammalian reproduction by integrating behaviour, and I am currently studying how male care influences the evolution of life history traits and male reproductive traits. Finally, I address hotly debated questions such as how metabolic rates scale with body size, a central assumption of theoretical models like the controversial metabolic theory of ecology.

Read more at: Evolutionary Comparative Ecology Group  


NERC New Investigator Award : ‘Understanding biological invasions: a phylogenetic comparative approach’ (620K; grant n. NE/K013777/1; PI: Dr. Isabella Capellini).

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BBSRC/NERC Research Grant :Evolutionary architecture of reproduction in female mammals’ (312K; grant no. BB/E014593/1; PI: Prof. Robert Barton, Research Co-Investigator: Dr. Isabella Capellini)


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BBSRC logo 


Module number

Module name



58127 Skills for Biologists Tutor 4
58247 Animal form and function Module coordinator & Lecturer 5
58251 Professional and research skills for biomedical scientists Lecturer 5
58257 Vertebrate Zoology Module coordinator 5
58272 Professional and research skills for biologists Lecturer 5
58004 Current Biology Facilitator 6
58327 20 Credits Research project Supervisor 6
58400 Reviews in Biology Supervisor 6
58376 40 Credits Research Research project Supervisor 6
58377 Topics in Biodiversity and Evolution Lecturer 6

Key Publications

Publications list 2016- 2008


  • Allen WA, Street S, Capellini I (2017). Fast life history traits promote invasion success in amphibians and reptiles. Ecology Letters, in press


  • West H. E. & Capellini I. (2016) Male care and life history traits in mammals. Nature Communications 7: 11854.
  • Barton R. A. & Capellini I. (2016). Sleep, evolution and brains. Brain, Behvaiour and Evolution, in press. (Invited commentary).
  • Capellini I., Baker J., Allen W., Street S. & Venditti C. The role of life history traits in mammalian invasion success. Ecology Letters, 18: 1099-1107.


  • Capellini I., Nunn C. L. & Barton R. A. 2015. microparasites and placental invasiveness in eutherian mammals. PLoS One 10 (7): e0132563. [Recommended by the Faculty1000 Women’s Health panel].
  • Chiari Y.,  Glaberman S., Seren N., Carretero M. A. & Capellini I. 2015. Phylogenetic signal in amphibian sensitivity to copper sulfate in relation to environmental temperature. Ecological Applications, 25 596-602.


  • Capellini I. 2012. Evolutionary significance of placental interdigitation in mammalian reproduction. Placenta, 33: 763-768. (Invited review).


  • Barton R. A. & Capellini. I. (2011). Maternal investment, life histories and the costs of brain growth in mammals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108: 6169-6174.
  • Montgomery S. H., Capellini I., Venditti, C., Barton R. A. & Mundy N. I. (2011). Adaptive evolution of four microcephaly genes and the evolution of brain size in anthropoid Primates. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 28: 625-638.
  • Capellini I., Venditti C. & Barton R. A. 2011. Placentation and maternal investment in mammals. American Naturalist, 177, 86-98.


  • Capellini I., Venditti, C. & Barton R. A. 2010. Phylogeny and the scaling of metabolic rates in mammals. Ecology 91 (9), 2783-2793.
  • Montgomery S. H., Capellini I., Barton R. A. & Mundy N. I. (2010). Reconstructing the ups and downs of primate brain evolution: implications for adaptive hypotheses and Homo floresiensis. BMC Biology 8, 9.


  • Capellini I., McNamara P., Preston B. T., Nunn C. L. & Barton R. A. (2009). Does sleep play a role in memory consolidation? A comparative test. PLoS One 4 (2), e4609.
  • Preston B. T., Capellini I., McNamara P., Barton, R. A. & Nunn, C. L. (2009). Parasite resistance and the adaptive significance of sleep. BMC Evolutionary Biology 9, 7. [Awarded a ‘Must Read’ designation by the Faculty1000 biology Panel]


  • Capellini I., Nunn C. L., McNamara P., Preston B. T. & Barton R. A. 2008. Energetic constraints, not predation, influence the evolution of sleep patterning in mammals. Functional Ecology 22 (5), 847-853.
  • Capellini I., Barton R. A., McNamara P., Preston B. T. & Nunn C. L. 2008. Phylogenetic analysis of the ecology and evolution of mammalian sleep. Evolution 62 (7), 1764-1776.


  • 2017-present: NERC Peer Review College member
  • 2016-present: Senior Lecturer in Vertebrate Zoology, University of Hull, Hull
  • 2016 Fellow of the Higher Education Academy 
  • 2011-2016: Lecturer in Vertebrate Zoology, University of Hull, Hull
  • 2011: Lecturer in Ecology, Queen's University of Belfast, Belfast.
  • 2008-2010:   Postdoctoral Research Associate, Durham University, Durham. ‘Evolutionary architecture of reproduction in female mammals’, PI: Prof. Robert Barton, Co-Investigator: Isabella Capellini, BBSRC/NERC grant no. BB/E014593/1, £312.000.
  • 2005-2007:   Postdoctoral Research Associate, Durham University, Durham. ‘Phylogeny of sleep: the correlated evolution of sleep, brain and behaviour’, PI: Dr. Patrick McNamara (Boston University), Prof. Robert Barton (Durham University), Dr. Charles Nunn (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology Leipzig; Harvard University), NIH grant no. 1 R01 MH070415-01A1, $1million.
  • 2001-2004:   PhD in Biology: ‘Evolutionary ecology of hartebeest’, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne. Supervisors: Prof. Morris Gosling (Newcastle University) and Dr. Craig Roberts (University of Stirling).
  • 1992-2000:   MSc-level Degree in Natural Sciences, course in Conservation Biology, University of Milan (Italy). Thesis: ‘Male roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) spatial behaviour in the Appennines with special reference to the rut’. Top score with distinction (110/110 with distinction). Supervisor: Prof. Marco Apollonio (University of Sassari, Italy).

Administrative duties

Leader of the Ecology and Environment Research Group

Organizer of the seminar series in Energy & Environment

Chair of Scrutiny Committee Member

NERC NI Grant - Understanding biological invasions.

Alien species are those introduced by humans, intentionally or accidentally, outside their native range. Alien species can inflict huge ecological and economic damage, and are the only cause of 1 in 5 of all animal species extinctions. Not all alien species become widespread and invasive in novel environments, however. Identifying which ones are likely to become future invaders is essential for effective prevention but this is still a poorly resolved task.

Whether successful invaders have particular characteristics that promote their success is highly debated. Birds that establish alien populations, for example, share key traits, such as broader ecological niches. Little is known, however, of what makes other vertebrates ‘invasive’. Yet fish, mammals, reptiles and amphibians are often problematic invaders, and are introduced outside their native range at an increasing pace. Most studies on the determinants of invasion focus on establishment success in novel habitats. However, what promotes establishment of an alien species may not promote its range expansion post-establishment. Crucially, our understanding of the determinants of success at spread is very limited for any animal group. Likewise the early stages of invasion, when prevention measures can be most effective, are the least understood. Human preferences for some (alien) species are believed to be particularly important at these early stages, but how introduction pathways affect invasion success is still unclear.

We will compile the first comprehensive database of success and failure at introduction, establishment, and spread in non-avian vertebrates at the global scale. Using state of art phylogenetic comparative methods, we will first investigate the role of human preferences and activities in biological invasions. Next, we will test whether successful invaders exhibit reproductive and ecological characteristics that distinguish them from unsuccessful alien species, and whether determinants of success vary across stages of invasion.

This project will enable us to: (i) understand how human related factors facilitate non-avian vertebrates’ introduction and success into novel environments; (ii) reveal what traits successful alien vertebrates share at each stage of invasion; (iii) determine the relative importance of human related factors versus species traits in invasion success; and (iv) assess the generality of conclusions for vertebrates.

PI: Dr Isabella Capellini

Postdoctoral researchers : Dr Sally Street and Dr Jorge Gutierrez

Funding : NERC New Investigator Award (620K; grant n. NE/K013777/1; 2014-2017)


Capellini I., Baker J., Allen W., Street S. & Venditti C. The role of life history traits in mammalian invasion success. Ecology Letters, 18: 1099-1107.

Allen WA, Street S, Capellini I (2017). Fast life history traits promote invasion success in amphibians and reptiles. Ecology Letters, in press.


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Evolutionary Comp;arative Ecology NERC 

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