Dr Jay Biernaskie

Research interests

Evolutionary ecology, social adaptation, Darwinian agriculture



My research examines the universal social tension between self-interest and group productivity. In one aspect of my work, I develop models to predict how natural selection will resolve this tension and favour competition or cooperation among individuals. Social evolution theory has revolutionized our understanding of animal behaviour and, more recently, the basic and applied biology of microbes. Yet although plants clearly live and interact in groups, social evolutionary thinking has not been fully exploited in plant science and agriculture. My research aims to (i) predict competitive and cooperative traits of plants; (ii) discover the traits and genes underlying efficient cooperation among plants in agriculture; and (iii) discover examples where cooperation among plants has evolved in nature. To address these problems, I currently use the genetic and genomic tools available for Arabidopsis and wheat.

Selected Publications

Biernaskie, J.M., Perry, J., & Grafen, A. 2018. A general model of biological signals, from cues to handicaps. Evolution Letters 2-3: 201–209.


McDonald, G., Farine, D.R., Foster, K.R. & Biernaskie, J.M. 2017. Assortment and the analysis of natural selection on social traits. Evolution 71: 2693-2702.


Biernaskie, J.M. & Foster, K.R. 2016. Ecology and multilevel selection explain aggression in spider colonies. Ecology Letters 19: 873-879.


Inglis, F.R.*, Biernaskie, J.M.*, Gardner, A. & Kummerli, R. 2016. Presence of a loner strain maintains cooperation and diversity in well-mixed bacterial communities. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 283: 20152682.

* co-first authors


Biernaskie, J.M. & West, S.A. 2015. Cooperation, clumping, and the evolution of multicellularity. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 282: 20151075.


Pizzari, T., Biernaskie, J.M., & Carazo, P. 2015. Inclusive fitness and sexual conflict: How population structure can modulate the battle of the sexes. BioEssays 37: 155-166.


Biernaskie, J.M., Grafen, A. & Perry, J.C. 2014. The evolution of index signals to avoid the cost of dishonesty. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 281: 20140876.


Biernaskie, J.M. West, S.A., & Gardner, A. 2013. Multi-coloured greenbeards, bacteriocin diversity, and the rock-paper-scissors game. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 26: 2081-2094.


Biernaskie, J.M., West, S.A., & Gardner, A. 2011. Are greenbeards intragenomic outlaws? Evolution 65: 2729-2742.


Biernaskie, J.M. 2011. Evidence for competition and cooperation among climbing plants. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 278: 1989-1996.

     * featured in: Ricklefs & Relyea (2015) Ecology: The Economy of Nature (Canadian edition)


Biernaskie, J.M. 2010. The origin of gender dimorphism in animal-dispersed plants: disruptive selection in a model of social evolution. American Naturalist 175: E134-E148.


Biernaskie, J.M., Walker, S.C. & Gegear, R.J. 2009. Bumble bees learn to forage like Bayesians. American Naturalist 174: 413-423.


* featured in: Piersma & van Gils (2010) The Flexible Phenotype and Nordell & Valone (2012) Animal Behavior


Biernaskie, J.M. & Gegear, R.J. 2007. Habitat assessment ability of bumble bees implies frequency-dependent selection on floral rewards and display size. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 274: 2595-2601.


Biernaskie, J.M. & Elle, E. 2007. A theory for exaggerated secondary sexual traits in animal-pollinated plants. Evolutionary Ecology 21: 459-472.


Biernaskie, J.M. & Elle, E. 2005. Conditional strategies in an animal-pollinated plant: size-dependent adjustment of gender and rewards. Evolutionary Ecology Research 7: 901-913. 


Biernaskie, J.M. & Tyerman, J.G. 2005. The overextended phenotype. Ecoscience 12: 3-4. 


Biernaskie, J.M. & Cartar, R.V. 2004. Variation in rate of nectar production depends on floral display size: a pollinator manipulation hypothesis. Functional Ecology 18: 125-129.


Biernaskie, J.M., Cartar, R.V. & Hurly, T.A. 2002. Risk-averse inflorescence departure in hummingbirds and bumble bees: could plants benefit from variable nectar volumes? Oikos 98: 98-104.