Dr. David W. Tonkyn

Population ecology

Clemson University

Overview of research


Sampling fish on Lake Hovsgol, northern Mongolia,

with ultralight research device

In the past I have conducted field and laboratory research on microbes, plants, insects, and vertebrates, as well as theoretical studies in mathematical and statistical ecology. In recent years my interest has shifted to conservation biology and my graduate students share this focus.  Recent graduates studied a southeastern US butterfly threatened by climate change, habitat use by elephants in Sri Lanka, and threats to bird species worldwide.  My current graduate students are studying human-elephant conflict in Myanmar and tigers in India and the Russian Far East.  More generally, I have served on committees for graduate students in areas from computer science and mathematics, through Education and Environmental Design, to Genetics and Wildlife, reflecting the breadth of my interests and collaborations across campus.  


My current research falls into three areas.  First, I have a long-term interest in the conservation of endangered species.  I have measured and modeled the interacting threats of genetic and demographic decline in small populations, and used optimization methods to reduce these threats.  These optimization methods for selecting individuals with the greatest genetic diversity can be extended to another conservation problem, of selecting sites for a nature reserve system with the greatest species diversity.  The two problems are related in goals and solutions, and I have recently published on the latter.


Second, I am broadly interested in statistical and mathematical ecology, including dispersal, survival, population dynamics, and ecological invasions.


Finally, I have become interested in recent years in measuring and modeling the ecological effects of climate change.  My recent PhD student’s study of climate change effects on the Diana fritillary is the first of its kind in this region, though many southern species have made their first appearance in South Carolina in recent years and there are lots of opportunities for this research.