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Photo of Whelan, Christopher

Christopher Whelan

Adjunct Research Associate Professor


Building & Room:

3350 SES


845 West Taylor St.

Office Phone:



I am an evolutionary ecologist. I have broad interests in the evolutionary ecology of species in natural communities, their conservation, and how they function. My research has examined the ecology of human-dominated landscapes (including the urban environment), ecosystem services, plant-animal interactions, and the interplay of digestive physiology and foraging ecology. Over most of my career I have concentrated on birds. In their ecosystems, different bird species function in many ways. Many species are predators of vertebrates and/or invertebrates, some consume fruits and disperse seeds while others consume the seeds themselves (so they are seed predators), and many species consume carrion. Through these various ecological and ecosystem functions, birds often benefit people – though most of us are blissfully unaware of these important ecosystem services, even as we celebrate birds for their beauty, their songs, and their fascinating behaviors.

More recently, I have become involved with cancer research as a disease of ecology and evolution. Viewing cancer as a speciation event and tumors as ecosystems within the biome of the host’s body opens cancer research to the many tools and frameworks of evolutionary ecology. One interest in cancer biology revolves around the role of cancer as a consumer of, and a competitor for, resources meant to sustain the host. This often manifests in a wasting condition known as cancer cachexia. Because cancer cachexia may be driven, at least in part, by the production of reactive oxygen species and resulting inflammation, conditions that long-distance migratory birds have evolved defenses against, some of my cancer research derives inspiration from foraging strategies and physiological adaptations of long-distance migratory bird species.

Selected Publications

Garfinkel, MB, Minor, ES, and Whelan, CJ (in press) Birds suppress pests in corn but release them in soybean crops within a mixed prairie/agriculture system. Condor.

Whelan, CJ, Cunningham, J (in press) Resistance is not the end: Lessons from Pest Management. Cancer Control.

Michel, NL, Whelan, CJ, Verutes, GM (in press) Ecosystem Services Provided by Neotropical Birds. Condor.

Flower CE, Dalton JE, Whelan CJ, Brown JS, Gonzalez-Meler MA 2019. Patch use in the arctic ground squirrel: effects of micro-topography and shrub encroachment in the Arctic Circle. Oecologia 190:243-254.

Ale SB, Halloway A, Mitchell WA, Whelan CJ 2019. Does God roll dice? Neutrality and determinism in evolutionary ecology. Biology & Philosophy 34:3.

Gatenby, R, Whelan, C 2019. Cancer treatment innovators discover Charles Darwin. Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health, 2019(1), p.108.

Nyffeler, M, Şekercioğlu, ÇH, Whelan, CJ 2018. Insectivorous birds consume an estimated 400–500 million tons of prey annually. The Science of Nature 105:47.

Şekercioğlu, ÇH, Wenny, DG, Whelan, CJ (eds) 2016. Why Birds Matter. Avian Ecological Function and Ecosystem Services. University of Chicago Press. 387 pp.

Whelan CJ, Brown JS, Hank AE 2015. Diet preference in the House Sparrow Passer domesticus: hooked on millet? Bird study 62:569-573.

Oyugi JO, Brown JS, Whelan CJ 2012. Foraging behavior and coexistence of two sunbird species in a Kenyan woodland. Biotropica: 44:262-269.

Whelan CJ, Wenny DG, Marquis RJ 2008. Ecosystem services provided by birds. Annals of the New York academy of sciences 1134:25-60.

Marquis RJ, Whelan CJ 1994. Insectivorous birds increase growth of white oak through consumption of leaf‐chewing insects. Ecology 75:2007-2014.

Willson MF, Whelan CJ 1990. The evolution of fruit color in fleshy-fruited plants. The American Naturalist 136:790-809.

(Complete list of publications on Google Scholar )