Queen's University

Dr. Lonnie Aarssen

Professor, Department of Biology


I am a Professor in the Department of Biology, at Queen's University, where I teach Plant Ecology and Evolution, and Evolution and Human Affairs.

I am founder and editor of Ideas in Ecology and Evolution (IEE), which is a peer reviewed, electronic journal published at Queen's, that effectively serves as a 'catalogue' for modelers and empiricists, as well as for educators and the media. It allows them to 'shop' for novel ideas and hypotheses that have been subjected to critical evaluation and response by professional biologists, and are available to be explored, debated and tested. I am founder and director of Science Open Reviewed (SciOR), which is an online community of researchers at Queen's, using a unique model for promoting efficient and accountable author-directed, open (non-blind) peer review, sciences. I am also the editor of Proceedings of Science Open Reviewed, which is published by SciOR.

My ecology and evolution research includes a broad range of topics, with particular emphasis on the development and testing of new hypotheses and conceptual models for the interpretation of adaptive strategies for growth, survival, and reproduction in plants along environmental gradients. I examine how these strategies help to explain patterns in the abundance, distribution, composition, and diversity of organisms, taxa, biomass, and productivity within and between habitats. 

I am also interested in exploring how evolutionary thinking can affect our understanding of our lives, our species and our ability to share the planet with other species. These themes are explored in several of my research projects, including Darwinism and meaningWill empathy save us?, my recent eBook What Are We? Exploring the Evolutionary Roots of our FutureTEDx Queen's: The Evolutionary Roots of our Future, and TEDx Belgium: Unpacking the ‘work hard-play hard’ animal. I have developed this theme for courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, where students apply Darwinian evolutionary theory to the interpretation of contemporary human motivation, social life, and culture, and how these effects impact on civilization, and the challenges it faces for the 21st century.


Most Recent Project

Body size and fitness in plants: Revisiting the selection consequences of competition

Diagram of between-species plant growth for project by Queen's university research Dr. Lonnie ArrssenHaving capacity for a relatively large plant body size is usually regarded as a key functional trait associated with success under competition between resident species within natural vegetation. This traditional ‘size-advantage’ hypothesis, however, generally fails to find support from several lines of recent research. Possible interpretations are considered here, including one in particular that has been largely overlooked, which is, that a larger species generally also needs to grow to a larger threshold size before it can reproduce at all, and the latter may not be generally attainable when neighbourhood resources are severely contested.

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Other Projects

  • What Are We? Exploring the Evolutionary Roots of our Future

    Cover for book by Queen's University researcher Dr. Lonnie Aarrssen. illustration depicts people lifting the lid of a giant person's head and examining "what's under the hood"Humans are fascinated with themselves.
    What are we? Do our lives mean something?

    Our obsession with these questions is why the arts and humanities exist, and yet, their long history of success is built on a celebrated pluralism of interpretation for the human experience. Ironically, the ‘What are we?’ question is required here to remain essentially unanswered—an enduring and revered mystery.

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