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Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

Dr Erik Postma

Dr Erik Postma

Associate Professor of Evolutionary Biology


 Tremough House M208


Tremough House, University of Exeter,  Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE, UK


I study the individual- and population-level causes and consequences of variation in the traits related to the most important events in an individual's life, including birth, mate choice, reproduction and death. To this end I use individual-based, long-term data for a range of species, including birds and humans. I am also interested in the application of concepts and analytical tools from evolutionary biology to human athletic performance.


2005 PhD, Netherlands Institute of Ecology/Utrecht University, The Netherlands

2000 MSc, Wageningen University, The Netherlands

1999 BSc, Wageningen University, The Netherlands


2023 - present Associate Professor, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter

2017 - 2023 Senior Lecturer, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter

2011 - 2017 Research Associate, Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich, Switzerland

2008 - 2011 Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich, Switzerland

2006 - 2008 Vice-Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Broad research specialisms

Quantitative genetics, inbreeding, pedigrees, natural and sexual selection, life-history theory, birds, mammals, humans, endurance performance.


Research group links

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Research interests

I am an evolutionary biologist with a fascination for the causes and consequences of individual variation. In my research, I aim at disentangling the role of genes and the environment in shaping this variation, and to test for its consequences in terms of individual-level fitness and population-level structure and demography. Using a combination of theoretical and empirical work, my research aims at advancing our understanding of the individual- and population-level consequences of environmental change. To this end, I combine ideas and techniques from population, quantitative and molecular genetics, as well as life-history theory, and apply these to large-scale (individual-based) datasets for human and non-human animals.

Research grants

  • 2022 Natural Environment Research Council
    Despite being at the heart of evolutionary biology, we still have a remarkably poor understanding of the capacity of wild populations to adapt to changing environments. In particular, we struggle to understand why evolution-in-action appears to be so rare, despite genetic variation and natural selection - its main requirements - seemingly being so common. This so-called 'paradox of stasis' raises the question if we need (even) better theory and (even) more data, or if evolution in the wild is in fact inherently unpredictable. This project aims to answer this fundamental question by capitalising on over 60 years of individual-based data for an island population of great tits and a unique eight-year experiment in which we applied strong artificial selection on clutch size, thereby experimentally displacing this population from its adaptive optimum.


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Journal articles

Postma E (In Press). A comment on the adaptive value of gluttony: predators mediate the life history trade-offs of satiation threshold by Pruitt & Krauel (2010). Journal of Evolutionary Biology Abstract.
Bonnet T, Postma E (In Press). Fluctuating selection and its (elusive) evolutionary consequences in a wild rodent population. Journal of Evolutionary Biology
Brosnan S, Postma E (In Press). Humans as a model for understanding biological fundamentals. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 20172146-20172146.
Postma E (In Press). Limited mass-independent individual variation in resting metabolic rate in a wild population of snow voles (Chionomys nivalis). Journal of Evolutionary Biology Abstract.
Nishitani T, Matsumura K, Postma E, Sharma MD, Hosken DJ, Miyatake T (2024). Experimental quantification of genetic and ontogenetic effects on fighting behavior in the broad-horned flour beetle. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 78(3). Abstract.
Young EA, Postma E (2023). Low interspecific variation and no phylogenetic signal in additive genetic variance in wild bird and mammal populations. Ecology and Evolution, 13(11). Abstract.
Vedder O, Tschirren B, Postma E, Moiron M (2023). Rapid decline of prenatal maternal effects with age is independent of postnatal environment in a precocial bird. Evolution, 77(11), 2484-2491. Abstract.  Author URL.
Young EA, Chesterton E, Lummaa V, Postma E, Dugdale HL (2023). The long-lasting legacy of reproduction: lifetime reproductive success shapes expected genetic contributions of humans after 10 generations. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 290(1998). Abstract.
Rickard IJ, Vullioud C, Rousset F, Postma E, Helle S, Lummaa V, Kylli R, Pettay JE, Røskaft E, Skjærvø GR, et al (2022). Author Correction: Mothers with higher twinning propensity had lower fertility in pre-industrial Europe. Nature Communications, 13(1).
Bonnet T, Morrissey MB, de Villemereuil P, Alberts SC, Arcese P, Bailey LD, Boutin S, Brekke P, Brent LJN, Camenisch G, et al (2022). Genetic variance in fitness indicates rapid contemporary adaptive evolution in wild animals. Science, 376(6596), 1012-1016. Abstract.
Postma E, Ziegler E, Matthes K, Floris J, Staub K (2022). Health and lifespan of Swiss men born in an alpine region in 1905–1907. The History of the Family Abstract.
Çilingir FG, Hansen D, Bunbury N, Postma E, Baxter R, Turnbull L, Ozgul A, Grossen C (2022). Low‐coverage reduced representation sequencing reveals subtle within‐island genetic structure in Aldabra giant tortoises. Ecology and Evolution, 12(3). Abstract.
Rickard IJ, Vullioud C, Rousset F, Postma E, Helle S, Lummaa V, Kylli R, Pettay JE, Røskaft E, Skjærvø GR, et al (2022). Mothers with higher twinning propensity had lower fertility in pre-industrial Europe. Nat Commun, 13(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Callejas‐Díaz M, Chambel MR, San‐Martín‐Lorén J, Gea‐Izquierdo G, Santos‐Del‐Blanco L, Postma E, Climent JM (2022). The role of maternal age, growth, and environment in shaping offspring performance in an aerial conifer seed bank. American Journal of Botany, 109(3), 366-376. Abstract.
Bowden-Parry M, Postma E, Boogert NJ (2020). Effects of food type and abundance on begging and sharing in Asian small-clawed otters (Aonyx cinereus). PeerJ, 8 Abstract.
Evans SR, Postma E, Sheldon BC (2020). It takes two: Heritable male effects on reproductive timing but not clutch size in a wild bird population. Evolution, 74(10), 2320-2331.
Blanckenhorn WU, Llaurens V, Reim C, Teuschl Y, Postma E (2019). Artificial selection on male size depletes genetic variance but not covariance of life history traits in the yellow dung fly. Abstract.
Pick JL, Postma E, Tschirren B (2019). The more you get, the more you give: Positive cascading effects shape the evolutionary potential of prenatal maternal investment. Evolution Letters
Postma E, Evans S, Waldvogel D, Vasiljevic N (2018). Heritable spouse effects increase evolutionary potential of human reproductive timing. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 285 Abstract.
Bonnet T, Wandeler P, Camenisch G, Postma E (2017). Bigger is Fitter? Quantitative Genetic Decomposition of Selection Reveals an Adaptive Evolutionary Decline of Body Mass in a Wild Rodent Population. PLoS Biol, 15(1). Abstract.  Author URL.
Kasper C, Kölliker M, Postma E, Taborsky B (2017). Consistent cooperation in a cichlid fish is caused by maternal and developmental effects rather than heritable genetic variation. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 284(1858), 20170369-20170369. Abstract.
van Benthem KJ, Bruijning M, Bonnet T, Jongejans E, Postma E, Ozgul A (2017). Disentangling evolutionary, plastic and demographic processes underlying trait dynamics: a review of four frameworks. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 8(1), 75-85. Abstract.
Nietlisbach P, Keller LF, Camenisch G, Guillaume F, Arcese P, Reid JM, Postma E (2017). Pedigree-based inbreeding coefficient explains more variation in fitness than heterozygosity at 160 microsatellites in a wild bird population. Proc Biol Sci, 284(1850). Abstract.  Author URL.
Timothée B, Peter W, Glauco C, Erik P (2016). Bigger is Fitter? Quantitative Genetic Decomposition of Selection Reveals an Adaptive Evolutionary Decline of Body Mass in a Wild Rodent Population. Abstract.
Garcia-Navas V, Bonnet T, Waldvogel D, Camenisch G, Postma E (2016). Consequences of natal philopatry for reproductive success and mate choice in an Alpine rodent. BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY, 27(4), 1158-1166.  Author URL.
Nietlisbach P, Keller LF, Postma E (2016). Genetic variance components and heritability of multiallelic heterozygosity under inbreeding. HEREDITY, 116(1), 1-11.  Author URL.
Becker PJJ, Hegelbach J, Keller LF, Postma E (2016). Phenotype-associated inbreeding biases estimates of inbreeding depression in a wild bird population. JOURNAL OF EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY, 29(1), 35-46.  Author URL.
Bonnet T, Postma E (2016). Successful by Chance? the Power of Mixed Models and Neutral Simulations for the Detection of Individual Fixed Heterogeneity in Fitness Components. AMERICAN NATURALIST, 187(1), 60-74.  Author URL.
Garcia-Navas V, Bonnet T, Bonal R, Postma E (2016). The role of fecundity and sexual selection in the evolution of size and sexual size dimorphism in New World and Old World voles (Rodentia: Arvicolinae). OIKOS, 125(9), 1250-1260.  Author URL.
Postma E (2016). Why we should not dismiss a relationship between attractiveness and performance: a comment on Smoliga & Zavorsky (2015). BIOLOGY LETTERS, 12(11).  Author URL.
Nietlisbach P, Camenisch G, Bucher T, Slate J, Keller LF, Postma E (2015). A microsatellite-based linkage map for song sparrows (<i>Melospiza melodia</i>). MOLECULAR ECOLOGY RESOURCES, 15(6), 1486-1496.  Author URL.
Hoffmann J, Postma E, Schaub M (2015). Factors influencing double brooding in Eurasian Hoopoes <i>Upupa epops</i>. IBIS, 157(1), 17-30.  Author URL.
Garcia-Navas V, Bonnet T, Waldvogel D, Wandeler P, Camenisch G, Postma E (2015). Gene flow counteracts the effect of drift in a Swiss population of snow voles fluctuating in size. BIOLOGICAL CONSERVATION, 191, 168-177.  Author URL.
Becker PJJ, Reichert S, Zahn S, Hegelbach J, Massemin S, Keller LF, Postma E, Criscuolo F, Criscuolo O (2015). Mother - offspring and nest-mate resemblance but no heritability in early-life telomere length in white-throated dippers. PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, 282(1807).  Author URL.
Postma E (2014). A relationship between attractiveness and performance in professional cyclists. BIOLOGY LETTERS, 10(2).  Author URL.
Berger D, Postma E (2014). Biased Estimates of Diminishing-Returns Epistasis? Empirical Evidence Revisited. GENETICS, 198(4), 1417-+.  Author URL.
Berger D, Postma E (2014). Biased estimates of diminishing-returns epistasis? Empirical evidence revisited. Genetics, 198(4), 1417-1420. Abstract.
Tschirren B, Postma E, Gustafsson L, Groothuis TGG, Doligez B (2014). Natural selection acts in opposite ways on correlated hormonal mediators of prenatal maternal effects in a wild bird population. Ecology Letters, 17(10), 1310-1315. Abstract.
Wheelwright NT, Keller LF, Postma E (2014). The effect of trait type and strength of selection on heritability and evolvability in an island bird population. EVOLUTION, 68(11), 3325-3336.  Author URL.
Postma E, Siitari H, Schwabl H, Richner H, Tschirren B (2014). The multivariate egg: Quantifying within- and among-clutch correlations between maternally derived yolk immunoglobulins and yolk androgens using multivariate mixed models. Oecologia, 174(3), 631-638. Abstract.
Tschirren B, Postma E, Rutstein AN, Griffith SC (2012). When mothers make sons sexy: maternal effects contribute to the increased sexual attractiveness of extra-pair offspring. Proc Biol Sci, 279(1731), 1233-1240. Abstract.  Author URL.
Wilson AJ, Reale D, Clements MN, Morrissey MM, Postma E, Walling CA, Kruuk LEB, Nussey DH (2011). An ecologist's guide to the animal model (vol 79, pg 13, 2010). JOURNAL OF ANIMAL ECOLOGY, 80(5), 1109-1109.  Author URL.
Postma E (2011). Comment on "Additive Genetic Breeding Values Correlate with the Load of Partially Deleterious Mutations". SCIENCE, 333(6047).  Author URL.
Postma E, Heinrich F, Koller U, Sardell RJ, Reid JM, Arcese P, Keller LF (2011). Disentangling the effect of genes, the environment and chance on sex ratio variation in a wild bird population. PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, 278(1720), 2996-3002.  Author URL.
Thueler K, Bussiere LF, Postma E, Ward PI, Blanckenhorn WU (2011). Genetic and environmental sources of covariance among internal reproductive traits in the yellow dung fly. JOURNAL OF EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY, 24(7), 1477-1486.  Author URL.
Postma E, Spyrou N, Rollins LA, Brooks RC (2011). Sex-dependent selection differentially shapes genetic variation on and off the guppy Y chromosome. Evolution, 65(8), 2145-2156. Abstract.
Wilson AJ, Réale D, Clements MN, Morrissey MM, Postma E, Walling CA, Kruuk LEB, Nussey DH (2010). An ecologist's guide to the animal model. J Anim Ecol, 79(1), 13-26. Abstract.  Author URL.
Postma E, Martini L, Martini P (2010). Inbred women in a small and isolated Swiss village have fewer children. JOURNAL OF EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY, 23(7), 1468-1474.  Author URL.
Tschirren B, Postma E (2010). Quantitative genetics research in Zebra Finches: Where we are and where to go. Emu, 110(3), 268-278. Abstract.
Postma E, Den Tex R-J, Van Noordwijk AJ, Mateman AC (2009). Neutral markers mirror small-scale quantitative genetic differentiation in an avian island population. BIOLOGICAL JOURNAL OF THE LINNEAN SOCIETY, 97(4), 867-875.  Author URL.
Postma E, Gienapp P (2009). Origin-related differences in plumage coloration within an island population of great tits (<i>Parus major</i>). CANADIAN JOURNAL OF ZOOLOGY, 87(1), 1-7.  Author URL.
Tschirren B, Rutstein AN, Postma E, Mariette M, Griffith SC (2009). Short- and long-term consequences of early developmental conditions: a case study on wild and domesticated zebra finches. J Evol Biol, 22(2), 387-395. Abstract.  Author URL.
Postma E (2007). Inflated Impact Factors? the True Impact of Evolutionary Papers in Non-Evolutionary Journals. PLOS ONE, 2(10).  Author URL.
Postma E, Visser J, Van Noordwijk AJ (2007). Strong artificial selection in the wild results in predicted small evolutionary change. JOURNAL OF EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY, 20(5), 1823-1832.  Author URL.
Postma E, Charmantier A (2007). What ‘animal models’ can and cannot tell ornithologists about the genetics of wild populations. Journal of Ornithology, 148(S2), 633-642.
Postma E, Griffith SC, Brooks R (2006). Evolution of mate choice in the wild. Nature, 444(7121), E16-E16.
Postma E (2006). Implications of the difference between true and predicted breeding values for the study of natural selection and micro-evolution. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 19(2), 309-320. Abstract.
Postma E, van Noordwijk AJ (2005). Gene flow maintains a large genetic difference in clutch size at a small spatial scale. Nature, 433(7021), 65-68.
Edelaar P, Postma E, Knops P, Phillips R (2005). NO SUPPORT FOR a GENETIC BASIS OF MANDIBLE CROSSING DIRECTION IN CROSSBILLS (LOXIA SPP). The Auk, 122(4), 1123-1123.
Edelaar P, Postma E, Knops P, Phillips R (2005). No Support for a Genetic Basis of Mandible Crossing Direction in Crossbills (Loxia SPP). Ornithology, 122(4), 1123-1129.
Edelaar P, Piersma T, Postma E (2005). Retained non-adaptive plasticity: gene flow or small inherent costs of plasticity?. EVOLUTIONARY ECOLOGY RESEARCH, 7(3), 489-495.  Author URL.
Nussey DH, Postma E, Gienapp P, Visser ME (2005). Selection on Heritable Phenotypic Plasticity in a Wild Bird Population. Science, 310(5746), 304-306. Abstract.
Postma E, Van Hooft WF, Van Wieren SE, Van Breukelen L (2001). MICROSATELLITE VARIATION IN DUTCH ROE DEER (CAPREOLUS CAPREOLUS) POPULATIONS. Netherlands Journal of Zoology, 51(1), 85-95.
Van Wieren SE, Van Breukelen L, Van Hooft WF, Postma E (2001). Microsatellite Variation in Dutch Roe Deer (Capreolus Capreolus) Populations. Animal Biology, 51(1), 85-95.


Postma E (2014). Four decades of estimating heritabilities in wild vertebrate populations: improved methods, more data, better estimates?. In  (Ed) Quantitative Genetics in the Wild, Oxford University PressOxford, 16-33. Abstract.


Postma E (2006). Predicting breeding values for natural bird populations, and how this can help us to understand their evolution.  Author URL.

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External Engagement and Impact

Administrative responsibilities

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Quantitative and population genetics

Research integrity

Statistical modelling



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Supervision / Group

Postgraduate researchers

  • Dugald Foster
  • Rosie Layfield
  • Euan Young With Hannah Dugdale and Virpi Lummaa, based at the University of Groningen

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Office Hours:

During term, my office hours are on Wednesday from 11 to 12 and on Thursday from 10 to 11.

To find my office in the attic of Tremough House, use the entrance to the Tremough House Annexe opposite the Stannary. Turn left and then right, and before the set of double doors turn right. Now go up the stairs on your right. Keep going until you find my office on the left.

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