Matt Helmus

Matthew R. Helmus
Assistant Professor
Publications (Scholar) Curriculum Vitae (PDF)


  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Amsterdam Global Change Institute, Vrije Universiteit (2012-2016)
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago (2010-2011)
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG), China (2009-2010)
  • Ph.D. Zoology, University of Wisconsin Madison (2008)
  • B.S. Biology and Sociology, University of Central Arkansas (2001)

Research Interests

I am a quantitative ecologist who focuses on how ecological and evolutionary processes interact naturally to generate biodiversity, and how humans disrupt those processes. I address questions within both invasion biology and island biogeography using big data statistics, mathematical modeling, and field research. My study systems are located within the Eastern U.S. and on Caribbean Islands, and I also work broadly in entomology, ichthyology, and herpetology.

Current Research

Below I have listed my three current research themes. Under each theme are listed past and current papers that are key to understanding my work.

Forecasting Risk of Paninvasive Species

Invasive species are being introduced to new regions at an ever-increasing rate, but not every invasive becomes paninvasive. Paninvasive species are those invasives that spread globally and disrupt economic markets on a global scale. Much of my team’s research is focused on forecasting the risk of the spotted lanternfly plant hopper, an invasive forest and grape pest that is quickly spreading across the U.S. and is at risk of disrupting the global wine market.

  • Huron, N.A., J.E. Behm, M.R. Helmus. 2022. Paninvasion severity assessment of a US grape pest to disrupt the global wine market. Communications Biology 5, 655.
  • Lewkiewicz, SM, S De Bona, MR Helmus, B Seibold. 2022. Temperature sensitivity of pest reproductive numbers in age-structured PDE models, with a focus on the invasive spotted lanternfly. Journal of Mathematical Biology. 85(3): 1-37
  • Huron, NA & MR Helmus. 2022. Predicting host associations of the invasive spotted lanternfly on trees across the USA. bioRxiv.


Island Biogeography of the Anthropocene

Humans have reshaped species distributions across the earth, mixing and homogenizing biota from distant areas. My team merges evolutionary, ecological, and island biogeographic theory with economics to explain and predict present-day biogeographic patterns. Our approach is to use mathematical models, simulations, and big data in order to synthesize across multiple systems and elucidate new patterns and update classic island biogeographic theory with human drivers of biodiversity change.

  • Jesse, W.A.M., J. Ellers, J.E. Behm, G.C. Costa, S.B. Hedges, M.R. Helmus. 2022. Elevated human footprint on islands promotes both introduction and extinction probability of insular reptiles at opposite ends of geographic, evolutionary and ecological continua. bioRxiv.
  • Gleditsch, J., J.E. Behm, J. Ellers, W.A.M. Jesse, M.R. Helmus. 2021. Contemporizing island biogeography theory with anthropogenic drivers of species richness. Authorea.
  • Huron, NA, SB Hedges, & MR Helmus. 2022. Detecting stabilizing, directional, and disruptive patterns of anthropogenic species loss with general models of nonrandom extinction. bioRxiv.
  • Helmus, M.R., D.L. Mahler, J.B. Losos. 2014. Island biogeography of the AnthropoceneNature 513 (7519), 543-546. 


Quantitative Methods for Biodiversity Science

Biodiversity science often deals with large data sets that are analyzed to understand how taxonomic, phylogenetic, and functional components of biodiversity vary across spatial and temporal scales. However, for biodiversity science to have a broader impact, it must effectively communicate insights to stakeholders who own and manage landscapes. My team develops general quantitative methods for biodiversity science and develops frameworks for how ecologists can effectively communicate with stakeholders. These methods are packaged in open access R code and accessible to scientists and stakeholders through interactive online applications.

  • Turner, D. B., J.E. Behm, P.M. Phillips, V.A. Ramirez, M.R. Helmus. 2022. Coding for broader impact: leveraging coding skills for stakeholder communication. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
  • Helmus, M.R., T.J. Bland, C.K. Williams, A.R. Ives. 2007. Phylogenetic measures of biodiversityThe American Naturalist 169 (3), E68-E83.




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