I am a biologist who seeks to understand patterns of life on Earth and ensure that today’s incredible biodiversity will persist into the foreseeable future. Two central questions motivate my research: (1) Why do some places have many species and others have few? Answering this question requires studying a heady mix of species interactions, trait evolution, speciation, geographic range evolution & the drivers of modern range limits; and (2) How is climate change impacting where species live right now? We urgently need real world data to assess how climate change is altering species’ ranges & to validate models that predict where species will live in a warmer future. To this end, I use empirical data — both field data I gather & syntheses of published data — to determine species’ geographic responses to recent climate change.

I aim to provide general answers whenever possible in all my research— to find out how things work for most species in most places (within the scope of the question being asked). I therefore typically employ a comparative approach.

species interactions — speciation — range limits — trait evolution — geographic range evolution — climate change


current position | contact information

I am a Banting and Biodiversity Research Centre postdoctoral fellow in Dolph Schluter's lab at the University of British Columbia. I received my Ph.D from Cornell University in January 2016 (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology).

When conducting research, you can find me on intense fieldwork trips, running field experiments, in museum collections, analyzing citizen science datasets, and comprehensively searching the literature. Or perhaps more likely, hard at work writing, re-writing, re-writing and re-writing once more.

freemanATzoology.ubc.ca | @BenGFreeman1 | Google Scholar | ResearchGate

MY favorite photo - a rufous-tailed jacamar about to emit a pellet of indigestible insect parts

MY favorite photo - a rufous-tailed jacamar about to emit a pellet of indigestible insect parts

Latest news:

  • July 2019 — New paper in Ecography. We ask why closely related bird species sometimes overlap in range along mountain slopes & sometimes do not. Turns out behavior is key - species that fiercely defend territories tend not to overlap with their relatives.

  • June 2019 — Come out to Lynn Headwaters Regional Park on June 15 to hear me talk about ravens & all their fascinating behaviors (& go hiking of course).

  • May 2019 —New preprint up - check it out. Darwin thought that lower latitude/elevation species are generally better competitors than related higher lat/elev species. MacArthur did too. Often phrased as “competition limits species’ warm range edges.” I’m here to report mixed evidence for this idea (from a meta-analysis of behavioral competition between related lower & upper elevation species). Also, early May = spring migration, NBA playoffs + Champions League, damn.

  • April 2019 — We expect distantly related species to look pretty different. But in woodpeckers, distantly related species often look nearly identical - big time mimicry in birds! Out now in Nature Communications, a project helmed by Eliot Miller & Rusty Ligon. Also, looking forward to talking about birds and climate change at Vancouver Public Library on April 16 - should be a great event!

  • March 2019 —Lots going on, writing & revising & submitting & plotting new schemes. Proud to have helped Ethan Linck on his ambitious project to test Mayr’s ideas about speciation & diversity build-up in tropical mountians—using specimens collected by Mayr himself nearly a century ago! Now posted on Biorxiv.

  • December 2018 — Just back from Bogotá where I gave a keynote presentation at the Congreso Colombiano de Zoología. It was great to meet so many folks (and to return to Colombia for the first time in 8 years)- the congress showcased a lot of exciting science.

  • October 2018 — Big news, new paper out in PNAS. We show that global warming sets in motion an “Escalator to Extinction” for mountain birds. Birds on a Peruvian mountain have (1) shifted upslope associated with recent warming, (2) high elevation species are getting squeezed into smaller areas, (3) high elevation species are declining in abundance, and (4) some previously common high elevation species have disappeared. We view our study, conducted along an 8 km trail, as a miniature real-world model of the same processes likely occurring on mountain slopes throughout the tropical Andes (and perhaps throughout the global tropics). Great coverage, including from Ed Yong in The Atlantic, the AP, the BBC, and Yale e360.

  • September 2018 -- New paper out in Global Ecology and Biogeography! We show that across the globe, high elevation species are shrinking in range size as they shift upslope in response to warming temperatures. Also, we find no support for the idea that temperature is a more important driver of cool range limits: average shifts were similar at species' warm vs. cool limits. Big thanks to co-authors Julie Lee-Yaw, Jennifer Sunday and Anna Hargreaves. This was a real collaborative effort, hatched in the hallways of the Biodiversity Research Centre, and it is so nice to have this out!

  • July 2018 -- New paper out in The Auk: Ornithological Advances! We show that crows chase ravens all the time (mostly in spring) and usually in groups - they use their social behavior to gain the upper hand on a bigger relative. Big thanks to all the citizen scientists who provided the data. Nice coverage in National Geographic , Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Vancouver Courier, Global News, the National Post, and many other places (including the NRA!). I dig this Gizmodo piece.

  • June 2018 -- My new paper out in Journal of Biogeography. We show that most species are not common in the center of their range and rare at their range edges for New Guinean birds distributed along a mountain slope.

  • May 2018 -- Had a great time giving a public lecture about crows and ravens for the Beaty Biodiversity Museum's Way Cool series. Invigorating to talk about science to an all-ages audience, and gratifying to have an engaged & packed room on a sunny Sunday!

  • March 2018 -- Honored and pleased to receive a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow Research Prize. There are only two awardees per year for this campus-wide competition for UBC postdocs, and it comes with the princely sum of $5,000!

  • March 2018 -- Nice to see Benjamin Van Doren's paper out in Wilson Journal of Ornithology. It's a terrific example of carefully analyzing recordings of songs to help inform species limits, and the genetic data is the icing on the cake.

  • January 2018 -- I just came across this nice write-up in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment covering our research -- playback experiments can help us understand species limits in birds.

  • December 2017 -- Congrats to Graham Montgomery and Benjamin Van Doren for getting papers from their undergrad careers accepted at Wilson Journal of Ornithology. It takes a lot of dedication to see your project all the way through to publication!

  • September 2017 -- Great to see our study just published in The Auk getting some publicity. We present data from playback experiments that suggests 21 populations of Neotropical birds deserve species status (they ignore song from related populations). Here is a nice write-up in Discover Magazine. And check out this segment on the Discovery Channel Canada (starts at 19:50) featuring a number of Graham's nice bird photos. We even made it into Lonely Planet!

  • July 2017 - Song learning is associated with slower evolution of song divergence in Neotropical birds. This does not support the idea that learning speeds speciation. Read more in Evolution

  • March 2017 - Great trip to the Field Museum in Chicago to measure tons of birds (and give a seminar). Inspiring place to measure morphological divergence between closely related birds and contemplate the grandeur of life.