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Professor Nina Wedell

Professor Nina Wedell

Professor of Evolutionary Biology/ Associate Dean for Research (CLES)

 01326 371863



Science and Engineering Research Support Facility (SERSF):, University of Exeter,  Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9FE, UK


Professor of Evolutionary Biology/Associate Dean for Research (CLES)

I am an evolutionary biologist with research interests focused on the evolutionary ecology of sex. I have worked extensively on various aspects of sexual selection and sexual conflict, in particular on the role of selfish genetic elements in reproductive biology. I am the Academic lead for the Behaviour research group.

Latest news: Hear Professor Nina Wedell on NERC's Planet Earth podcast talking about why female promiscuity may keep a population viable. Nina's work on fruit flies demonstrates that so-called sperm competition controls the number of selfish genes in a population and stops species from going extinct.


1997 DSc (Stockholm)
1993 PhD (Stockholm)
1986 MSc (Stockholm)
1984 BSc (Stockholm)


2018- present Associate Dean for Reserach (CLES)

2014-2018 Director of Research

2011-2016 Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award Holder
2009- present Professor of Evolutionary Biology
2004-2009 Royal Society University Research Fellow: University of Exeter
2000-2004 Royal Society University Research Fellow: School of Biology, University of Leeds
1996-1999 Research Fellow: (Swedish Natural Sciences Research Council), Department of Zoology, University of Stockholm
1993-1996 Postdoctoral research fellow (Swedish Natural Sciences Research
Council): University of Liverpool


Research group links

The Wedell group: l-r Tom Price, Zenobia Lewis, and Fleur Champion de Crespigny.

Group work in the lab


Research projects

Evolution of female multiple mating - Why females of nearly all animals tend to mate with more than one male (polyandry) remains a pressing question for evolutionary biology. I am examining the direct and indirect benefits to females of polyandry. Males of many insects provide nutritional donations at mating. The consequences of male donations are explored in butterflies and bush-crickets. In other species, females may exercise post-copulatory choice to avoid using sperm of related males to reduce the cost of inbreeding.

Selfish genetic elements and sexual selection - Selfish genetic elements (SGEs), such as transposable elements, segregation distorters and maternally inherited symbionts are found in all living organisms where they can cause reproductive incompatibilities, feminization, and killing of sons and sperm resulting in sex ratio distortion. I am looking at the interactions between SGEs and adaptive female mating patterns:

1. Females may mate multiply to avoid using sperm from males carrying SGEs, by promoting sperm competition as a means to swamp SGE-carrying sperm. I am examining the impact of SGEs on male fertility in species of flies: Drosophila pseudoobscura (X-linked meiotic driver genes causing female biased sex ratios) and D. melanogaster and D. simulans (the cytoplasmic maternally inherited bacterium Wolbachia causing reduced hatching success, CI).

2. CI-inducing Wolbachia has the potential to affect the population dynamics of their host via reduced offspring production. In collaboration with Steve Sait (Leeds) and Zenobia Lewis (Liverpool), we are examining this possibility in Ephestia kuehniella moths.

3. I am also investigating the consequences of sex ratio distorting endosymbionts in butterfly populations. Male-killing Wolbachia has dramatic impact on the mating system in the butterfly Hypolimnas bolina across Pacific Islands, which vary in frequency of male killers (in collaboration with Greg Hurst at Liverpool). In Australian Eurema hecabe butterflies Wolbachia feminises genetic males and convert them into functional females (collaboration with Darrell Kemp at Macquarie University).

Sexual selection and sexual conflict - Female multiple mating creates a conflict of interests between the sexes, since males are selected to attempt to manipulate each female he mates with into putting as much of her resources into his offspring even if this lowers her overall reproductive output. Sexual conflict has profound implications for our understanding of numerous areas of evolutionary biology including sexual selection, sex determination and speciation. I am pursuing three lines of research:

1. Sexually antagonistic (SA) alleles are genes that are advantageous to one sex but detrimental when expressed in the other. If sex-linked, SA alleles can accumulate even when the advantage to one sex is less than the cost to the other. Recent research has revealed most genes are differentially expressed in male and female metazoans, indicating many loci are SA. The importance of sex-linkage and differential gene expression for SA alleles is examined in various butterflies and moths, where females are the heterogametic (XY) sex. Sex-linkage of sexually selected traits are frequent in this insect group.

2. In D. melanogaster, a transposable element is inserted into a cytochrome P450 gene (Cyp6g1 gene) conferring DDT resistance by upregulating gene expression. It also causes females to pack eggs with more RNA, increasing egg survival.  However there are sexually antagonistic effects of the allele because in males, up-regulation of Cyp6g1 can decrease male mating-success and alter male aggression. Recently, new TE insertions and duplications into of Cyp6g1 have been discovered.  These are associated with large sex differences in DDT resistance, but we do not understand why. Together with David Hosken and Richard ffrench-Constant (Cornwall) I am exploiting  this unique opportunity to  examine the impact of multiple TE insertions into the promoter region of a single gene with large SA effects.

3. Males frequently transfer a range of accessory gland proteins in the ejaculate that manipulate female reproductive physiology. These molecules are rapidly evolving yet seem to have cross-reactivity across insects. Together with David Hosken and Richard ffrench-Constant (Cornwall) I am examining the hypothesis that male insects may be exploiting a conserved physiological pathway regulating female physiology that is shared by insects.

Research grants

  • 2011 NERC
    Polyandry and sex ratio drive
  • 2008 NERC
    Selfish genetic elements and population viability: the impact of temperature and sexual selection
  • 2006 NERC
    Investigating an ongoing selective sweep: the dynamics and consequences of the spread of male-killer suppression in the butterfly Hypolimnas bolina
  • 2006 The Royal Society
    Summer studentship: Sex-ratio distortion and sperm production in flies: a new molecular technique
  • 2005 NERC
    Sheffield molecular genetics facility: Sex-ratio drive and sperm competitive success in Drosophila pseudoobscura
  • 2005 ESF
    Parasitic bacteria-host evolutionary interactions mechanisms and implications
  • 2004 Leverhulme Trust
    Parasitic bacteria, sexual selection and population dynamics
  • 2004 NERC
    Causes and consequences of geographic variation in a host-Wolbachia interaction
  • 2004 NSF
    Tracking Wolbachia-induced evolution: sex-ratio distortion and sexual selection in pacific island Hypolimnas bolina (Lepidoptera)
  • 2004 Leverhulme Trust
    Is multiple mating a female strategy to avoid inbreeding?
  • 2004 NERC
    Co-evolutionary interactions between female mating frequency and selfish genetic elements
  • 2002 The Royal Society
    Short visit grant: Polyandry as a defence against costs of inbreeding in the field cricket Teleogryllus oceanicus.
  • 2002 NERC
    Determinants of reproductive rates: sexual antagonism and environmental adaptation

External Engagement and Impact

Awards/Honorary fellowships

Royal Society Wolfson Merit Award (2011 -)

Committee/panel activities

Elected Member of EMBO (2014)

President Elect International Society for Behavioral Ecology (2012 - present)

Treasurer - Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (2006-2012)

Member Faculty of 1000 (2004 - present)

Royal Society International Exchanges Scheme panel (2011 - present)

External expert MOLECO panel, the Academy of Finland (2010 - present)

Councillor European Society for Evolutionary Biology (2009 - present)

Trustee of the Royal Entomological Society (2009- 2013)

Councillor International Society for Behavioral Ecology (2002-2006)

Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award Committee (2006-2008)

Royal Society Hooke Committee (2007-2009)

Non–North American Vice President of the Society for the Study of Evolution (2009)

LAPBIAT selection committee (EU-Finland) (2007-2010)

Member of the Royal Society International Travel Grants Panel (2009-2011)

Member of the Zoological Zoociety of London Scientific Awards Committee (2011 - present)

Editorial responsibilities

Associate Editor, Behavioral Ecology & Sociobiology (2003 - present)

Editorial Board, Behavioral Ecology (2011 - present)

Editorial Board, Evolution (2006-2009)

I recently helped compile a special edition of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (Jan 2013).

Invited lectures

Given >20 invited conference presentations and seminars in th UK and abroad since 2008, including key note speaker at 13th International Behavioral Ecology Congress, Perth Australia (2010), plenary at Evolution in Norman, Oklahoma USA (2011), and 'Big Questions in Behavioral Biology', Neuchatel, Switzerland (2012) 

Media Coverage

Research sheds light on benefits of multiple mates

Promiscuous females are trying to avoid selfish genes

Does Promiscuity Prevent Extinction?

Professor  Nina Wedell in the field

Professor Nina Wedell in the field


Programme director MSc Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology.


  • BIO3139 Mating System Biology


  • BIOM4017 Evolution and Behavioural Ecology
  • BIOM4018 (Approaches in Evolutionary and Behavioural Ecology



Information not currently available

Professor  Nina Wedell with Dr Tom Price in the lab

Professor Nina Wedell with Dr Tom Price in the lab

Supervision / Group

Postdoctoral researchers

  • Michelle Taylor

Postgraduate researchers


  • Fleur Champion de Crespigny (Canberra)
  • Tom Price (Liverpool)
  • Wayne Rostrant (UEA)
  • Damien Smith (UEA)
  • Citlali Wilson (Madrid)

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