Kevin Burns

Prof Kevin Burns profile picture

Evolutionary Ecology School of Biological Sciences


Teaching in 2020

Personal bio

PhD University of California Los Angeles | BSc University of California Berkeley

After receiving an undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1993, and a PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles, I moved to New Zealand from North America in 2001 to work at Victoria University of Wellington.

I live on the hill above the surf at Lyall Bay with my wife Jenn and three kids (Hayley, Luke and Karson).

Research interests


Oceanic islands are storehouses for weird creatures. Island animals break all the rules. Speedy, nervous, little birds repeatedly evolve to become plump, tame and flightless on islands. Equally strange are wonderful plants have evolved on islands. However, plants are very poorly understood relative to animals. Our research aims to determine whether plants repeatedly evolve similar patterns in dispersal ability, size and defense to island animals.

Read more on KC's book, Evolution in Isolation.

Visit the Island Biology research group

Biogeography, ecology & behaviour

Ecological communities are often much simpler on islands than on the mainland, making them ideal places to explore the processes shaping community assembly. We are working on a range of topics including (1) the distributional ecology of plants on both real islands (small-island archipelagos in New Zealand) and virtual islands (epiphytes, lianas and mistletoes inhabiting isolated host trees), (2) pollination and seed dispersal webs in Zealandia, and (3) the behavioural ecology of several native New Zealand birds, which are fearless of human observers.

Publications & Books

Biddick M, Hendriks A, Burns KC (2019) Plants obey (and disobey) the island rule.  PNAS In press.

Burns KC (2019), Evolution in Isolation: The Search for an Island Syndrome in Plants, Cambridge University Press.

Burns KC (2016) Native–exotic richness relationships: a biogeographic approach using turnover in island plant populations. Ecology 97: 2932-2938.

Kavanagh PH, Burns KC (2014) The repeated evolution of large seeds on islands. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 281: 20140675.

Burns KC & Zotz G (2010) A hierarchical framework to investigate epiphyte assemblages: networks, metacommunites and scale. Ecology 91: 377-385.

Duthie C, Gibbs G & Burns KC (2006) Seed dispersal by weta. Science 311: 1575.

View more publications at Researchgate


Teaching in 2020