Dr Justin Gerlach

Director of Studies (Biology)


[2016] [2019] 2022

Subject areas



College phone



I have supervised Natural Sciences undergraduates in Cambridge since 1995. I studied Zoology at Wadham College, Oxford and completed my DPhil there in 1994.

Although most of my time is taken up with teaching I have also carried out research on a wide range of organisms. My research interests can be summed up as species discovery and evolution in the very broadest sense: a synthesis of ecology, evolution and conservation biology, or why organisms and ecosystems are the way they are, and how they may change in the future. Within this I have worked on many aspects of ecology (interactions, diets and population dynamics), behaviour, taxonomy, anatomy and embryology. This has mainly concentrated on islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. My highest profile project has been work to save two species of giant tortoise from extinction, only surpassed by the discovery of a population of giant tortoises that hunt and eat sea-birds, something that really excited the world's media! Other species have ranged from plants to bats, with most things in between, including tardigrades, insects, frogs and lizards. I have always had a particular fondness for snails. More detail can be found at http://islandbiodiversity.com/jg.htm

Research interests

My current research and conservation interests are the Pacific island tree-snails (Partulidae) and giant tortoises. Historically these were the most important species radiations in the development of evolutionary thought but have largely been wiped out by deliberate introduction of predatory snails. My doctoral research was on the predators and in 1992 while researching these I rescued some of the last surviving Partula snails. These have been breeding in zoos since then and their descendants started being released back into the wild in 2016. My research has led to the publication of a major monograph on the snails and to new insights into possibilities for their conservation. In 2017 I undertook an expedition to the south Pacific to search for surviving species and to study invasive predatory flatworms.

Gant tortoise research is centred around investigating the newly discovered and amazing hunting behaviour shown by tortoises on Fregate island, Seychelles. I am developing plans for student projects to study this behaviour on the island.

Memberships and affiliations

Academic Associate - University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge



Publications: A full list of my publications can be found at http://islandbiodiversity.com/jgpapers.htm