Dr. Andrew J. Helmstetter

Evolutionary Biologist

Latest News: Sequencing plants in the field using ONT MinION - Out now in Scientific Reports



I use a variety of approaches and study groups to understand the evolutionary origins of diversity. My research typically revolves around phylogenetics, population genetics and genomics but also delves into plant health, modelling species distributions and examining patterns of growth and development. Click on the links below to find out more.

Development of primary genomic resources for securing sustainable hazelnut production in Turkey

I am using genomic approaches to provide a platform from which we can understand the basis of cold tolerance, drought tolerance and disease resistance in the European hazelnut, Corylus avellana

Demography and Phylogeny of Madagascan Flora

Photo credits to Krzysztof Ziarnek, Forest Starr, Kim Starr, Diorit

I'm interested in understanding how population size has changed over time in a variety of Madagascan plant species and using high-throughput sequencing to reconstruct the evolutionary history of species native to the island.

Adaptation and Speciation Genetics in Silene

The sea campion, Silene uniflora is a small flowering plant that is found on coastlines throughout the UK. According to folklore, sea campion should never be picked for fear of tempting death.

Evolution of South American Annual Killifish

The genus Austrolebias (order: Cyprinodontiformes) consists of over 40 species of annual killifish found in seasonal ponds distributed across the grasslands, wetlands and savannah of eastern South America. The small bodies of water Austrolebias inhabit dry out completely during the warm summer months meaning that individuals must grow to maturity, mate and lay eggs during the wet season. Once laid, these desiccation-resistant eggs survive an extended period of drought until hatching is triggered by the first autumn rains.

My research aims to uncover why, when and how phenotypic differences among Austrolebias differences evolved in this temporary pond system. I also investigate the structure of the Austrolebias genome using high-throughput sequencing approaches to understand the number, size and location of loci influencing particular traits.

Diversification and Molecular Evolution in Cyprinodontiformes

The Cyprinodontiformes are an order of approximately 1,200 ray-finned fish species found primarily in Africa and the Americas but also in Asia and Europe. Many of these species are popular in the aquarium trade including guppies, mollies and killifish. Living in a wide range of habitats, they have also evolved different and peculiar reproductive life history strategies such as annualism or viviparity.

My research aims to understand the factors that shape diversity in this group as well as to characterise adaptive evolution and its functional significance across representatives of the order.

Curriculum vitae


2016-Present Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Plant Genomics at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

2015-2016 Conservation Genetics Scientist at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew


2011-2015 NERC-funded PhD Studentship, Department of Life Sciences, Silwood Park, Imperial College London

2007-2011 4 year MBiolSci Degree, Department of Animal & Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield

2000-2007 King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford, Essex


2017 A case for sympatric speciation by cannibalism in South-American annual killifish (Austrolebias). Tom J. M. Van Dooren, Henri A. Thomassen, Femmie Smit, Andrew J. Helmstetter, Vincent Savolainen bioRxiv 121806; doi: https://doi:10.1038/s41598-017-08461-5 link

2017 Field-based species identification of closely-related plants using real-time nanopore sequencing. Joe Parker, Andrew J. Helmstetter, Dion S. Devey, Tim Wilkinson & Alexander S. T. Papadopulos Scientific Reports 7:8345 doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/107656 link

2016 Viviparity stimulates diversification in an order of fish. Andrew J. Helmstetter, Alexander S. T. Papadopulos, Javier Igea, Tom J. M. Van Dooren, Armand M. Leroi & Vincent Savolainen Nature Communications 7:11271 doi: 10.1038/ncomms11271 (2016) link


2012 RAD-seq methodologies for ecological and evolutionary studies - Dr. Julian Catchen & Dr. Bill Cresko

2012 Generalised Linear Modelling - Prof. Mick Crawley

Grants, awards and memberships

2014 Best Presentation Prize at the 16th Young Systematists' Forum at the Natural History Museum, London

2011-2015 NERC PhD Studentship

2010 Research Bursary from the Sheffield Undergraduate Research Education scheme.

Member, Society for the Study of Evolution

Member, European Society for Evolutionary Biology

Member, British Ecological Society


2011 Published an account of a collection expedition to Uruguay in the bi-monthly journal of the British Killifish Association, Killi-news.

2011 Asked to write an article for the Society of Biology on adaptive radiations in cichlids

About me

While I am not doing science I do a variety of other things including: