Dr Isabella Capellini

Senior Lecturer in Vertebrate Zoology

Faculty of Science and Engineering

01482 465508

Dr Capellini studies large-scale patterns and processes underlying phenotypic diversity and evolution.

In particular, she examines how ecology shapes variation in morphology, physiology and behaviour. Using modern phylogenetic comparative methods, she investigates the evolution of mammalian reproduction, parental care and life histories, and what 'makes' an invasive alien species. She also studies biological traits, such as the mammalian placenta and sleep, that are often studied in clinical contexts and much neglected in ecology and evolution. The University, NERC and BBSRC fund her research.


Research Interests

  • Vertebrate alien invasive species

  • Life history theory and the evolution of parental care

  • The evolution of placental diversity in mammals and viviparity in vertebrates

  • Sleep ecology and diversity in mammals

Research groups

Current collaborators

  • Durham University (Dr Sally Street and Professor Robert Barton)

  • University of South Alabama (Dr Ylenia Chiari and Dr Scott Glaberman)

  • Institute of Marine Sciences, Barcelona (Professor Francesc Pifferer and Dr Susanna Pla Quirante)

  • University of Salford (Dr Chiara Benvenuto and Professor Stefano Mariani)

  • Queen’s University of Belfast (Dr Jonathan Houghton and Donal Griffin)

  • University of Hull (Dr Lesley Morrell and Dr James Gilbert)

  • University of Reading (Dr Chris Venditti)

Past collaborators

  • Cambridge University (Dr Nicholas Mundy)

  • University College London (Dr Stephen Montgomery)

  • Duke University (Professor Charles Nunn)

  • Boston University (Professor Patrick McNamara)


Allen W, Street S and Capellini I. (2017) 'Fast Life History Traits Promote Invasion Success in Amphibians and Reptiles', Ecology Letters, 22: 222-230 (2017)

West H E and Capellini I, 'Male Care and Life History Traits in Mammals', Nature Communications, 7: 11854 (2016)

Capellini I, Baker J, Allen W, Street S and Venditti C, 'The Role of Life History Traits in Mammalian Invasion Success', Ecology Letters, 18: 1099-1107 (2015)

Barton R A Capellini I, 'Maternal Investment, Life Histories and the Costs of Brain Growth in Mammals', PNAS, 108: 6169-6174 (2011)

Capellini I, Venditti C and Barton R A, 'Placentation and Maternal Investment in Mammals', American Naturalist, 177: 86-98 (2011)

Full list


Programmes taught on (2019)

Modules list

  • Animal Form and Function (module leader)

  • Professional Skills for Biologists

  • 40 Credits Research Project

  • 20 Credits Research Project

  • Reviews in Biology

Research PhDs

Dr Capellini welcomes applications from students who are interested in large scale studies of evolution and ecology, particularly – but not exclusively – on vertebrates.

Current PhD supervisions 

Hannah West, The Evolution of Male Care in Mammals (2013–17)

Yannis Dimopoulos, Parents Feeding Offspring; the Ecology and Evolution of Parental Care in Insects (2017–2020) [Lead supervisor: Dr Gilbert]

Stephanie McLean, Laterality and Parental Care in Fish (2017 –2020) [Lead supervisor: Dr Morell]

Teaching awards and accolades

  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

Professional highlights

Academic qualifications

  • PhD in Biology, Newcastle University, 2005

  • Joint MSc and BSc in Natural Sciences, University of Milan (top score with distinction), 2000

External roles

  • Member of the NERC Peer Review College since 2017; regularly reviews grant applications for national and international funding agencies, such as NERC (UK), BBSRC (UK), Leverhulme Trust (UK), Leakey Foundation (USA), National Fund for Scientific and Technological Development (Chile), National Research Foundation (South Africa), Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research.

  • Reviews articles for more than 25 international journals, including Nature CommunicationsNature Ecology and EvolutionProceedings of the National Academy of SciencesProceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences; Evolution and DevelopmentGlobal Ecology and BiogeographyJournal of BiogeographyJournal of Evolutionary BiologyAmerican NaturalistAnimal BehaviourBehavioural Ecology and SociobiologyBehavioral Ecology; and in more specialised journals in ecology, evolution, neuroscience, reproductive biology, psychology, primatology and zoology.

Awards and accolades

NERC New Investigator Award: ‘Understanding Biological Invasions: a Phylogenetic Comparative Approach’ (£620,000; grant n. NE/K013777/1; PI: Dr. Isabella Capellini).

BBSRC/NERC Research Grant : ‘Evolutionary Architecture of Reproduction in Female Mammals’ (£312,000; grant no. BB/E014593/1; PI: Professor Robert Barton, Research Co-Investigator: Dr Isabella Capellini)(

Professional highlights

  • Senior Lecturer in Vertebrate Zoology, University of Hull (2016-)

  • Lecturer in Vertebrate Zoology, University of Hull (2011–2016)

  • Temporary Lecturer in Ecology, Queen's University of Belfast (2011)

  • Postdoctoral Research Associate, Durham University (2005–2010)