Kenneth Wilson

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Professor of Ecology,Lancaster University

Ken Wilson is an ecologist who specialises in studying the interactions between insects and their natural enemies, especially their pathogens such as baculoviruses and bacteria. He has worked in Africa (mainly Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia) for over twenty years. His Ph.D., at the University of Sheffield, UK, was on Callosobruchus beetles, an important stored product pest. In 1989, he moved to the University of Wales in Bangor, UK, and started working on the infamous African armyworm moth, Spodoptera exempta. His initial interest was in the migration behaviour of adult moths and he spent significant periods of time in Kenya, based at the Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa (DLCO-EA) in Nairobi. Extensive fieldwork took him all over Kenya to visit outbreaks of armyworm larvae, and it was at this point that he first encountered insects infected with SpexNPV, an armyworm specific baculovirus.


After a short break working on sheep and their parasites at Cambridge University, UK, he was awarded a five-year fellowship to investigate the interactions between Lepidoptera and their natural enemies. It was during this period that Prof. Wilson began working in Tanzania and started a productive collaboration with Wilfred Mushobozi (then the National Armyworm Forecaster for the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, now CEO of EcoAgriConsult Ltd) and David Grzywacz (Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, UK). Together, they have been working on developing SpexNPV as a safe and affordable biological pesticide. Most recently, this has resulted in the construction of a baculovirus processing plant in Arusha, built with funding from the UK DFID’s Research Into Use programme. This will soon be operational, making it possible for large amounts of this biopesticide to be produced in Tanzania for controlling armyworm outbreaks. Other funding for this work has come from DFID’s Crop Protection Programme, the SARID scheme (joint funding from the UK’s BBSRC and DFID), NERC and USAID.

Prof .Wilson also works on a range of other host-parasite systems, including nematode parasites in Svalbard reindeer and Soay sheep, microbial pathogens of UK honeybees, and diet-pathogen interactions in locusts and caterpillars. He is also involved in a project based in Zambia examining the exploitation of Jatropha for biofuel and its potential pest control properties.


He was a NERC Advanced Research Fellow and served on the NERC Peer Review College. He has served on the editorial boards of six major ecology and evolutionary journals and is currently Executive Editor of Journal of Animal Ecology.


Curriculum Vitae


Name: Prof. Kenneth Wilson

Country of birth: United Kingdom

Nationality:  British

Position Title: Professor of Ecology

Institution: Lancaster University

Contact Address:

Lancaster Environment Centre Lancaster University, LA1 4YQ United Kingdom

Email: -

Tel: -

Fax: -

Specialty Area:

-          Insect-pathogen interactions



1985  B.Sc. (Hons.), Zoology

1989  Ph.D., Zoology, University of Sheffield, United Kingdom


Positions held (since terminal degree):


2004 to date  Professor of Ecology, Lancaster University, United Kingdom


1996 - 2004  Lecturer/Reader in Ecology, University of Stirling, United Kingdom


1996 - 2001  NERC Advanced Research Fellow, University of Stirling, United Kingdom


1993 - 1996   Post-Doctoral Research Associate, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom


1988 - 1992   Post-Doctoral Research Officer, University of Wales, Bangor, United Kingdom






Honors and Awards (since terminal degree):


2010  Fellow .

2009  Executive Editor .

1986  Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society .

1996  NERC Advanced Research Fellowship (5 year award) .


A selection of major research accomplishments: Discoveries and first reports


1)                  The development of a baculovirus for the biological control of the cereal crop pest, the African armyworm, recently culminating in the construction of a bespoke processing plant in Arusha, Tanzania.

2)                  First demonstration that covert baculovirus infection is ubiquitous in migratory African armyworm moths.

3)                  First robust demonstration of the importance of dietary macronutrient balance for insect resistance to pathogens.

4)                  Formulation and testing of the density-dependent prophylaxis hypothesis - a novel hypothesis to explain variation in disease resistance.

5)                  First demonstration of widespread gender biases in the risks of parasitism in wild mammal populations, with relevance for contemporary human populations.

6)                  First demonstration of genetic trade-offs within the insect immune system.



A Selection of refereed journal publications (2002-present)


Redman, E.M., Wilson, K., Grzywacz, D. & Cory, J.S. 2010. High levels of genetic diversity in Spodoptera exempta NPV from Tanzania. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology. 105: 190-193.


Vilaplana, L., Wilson, K., Redman, E.M. & Cory, J.S. 2009. Pathogen persistence in migratory insects: high levels of vertically-transmitted virus infection in field populations of the African armyworm. Evolutionary Ecology. 24(1): 147-160.


Wilson, K., Grzywacz, D., & Mushobozi, W.L. 2009. Biological control of armyworm in Africa: pitfalls and solutions. Pesticides News. 84: 18-19.


Grzywacz, D., Mushobozi, W.L. & Wilson, K. 2009. Armyworm NPV for Africa: illustrating problems of promoting biopesticides in Africa. Biocontrol News and Information. 30(2): 31N-32N.


Wilson, K. 2009. Climate change and the spread of infectious ideas. Ecology. 90(4): 901-902. (A) [2]


Wilson, K. 2009. Evolutionary ecology: percolation of old ideas to new areas of ecology. Current Biology. 19(1): R21-R23.


Povey, S., Cotter, S.C., Lee, K.P., Simpson, S.J. & Wilson, K. 2009. Can the protein costs of bacterial resistance be offset by altered feeding behaviour? Journal of Animal Ecology. 78(2): 437-446.


Cotter, S.C., Myatt, J.P., Benskin, C. & Wilson, K. 2008. Selection for cuticular melanism reveals immune function and life-history trade-offs in Spodoptera littoralis. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 21: 1744-1754.


Lee, K.P., Simpson, S.J. & Wilson, K. 2008. Dietary protein-quality influences melanization and immune function in an insect. Functional Ecology. 22: 1052-1061.


Vilaplana L., Redman, E.M., Wilson, K. & Cory J.S. 2008. Density related variation in vertical transmission of a virus in the African armyworm. Oecologia. 155: 237-246.


Grzywacz, D., Mushobozi, W.L., Parnell, M., Jolliffe, F. & Wilson, K. 2008. Evaluation of Spodoptera exempta nucleopolyhedrovirus (SpexNPV) for the field control of African armyworm (Spodoptera exempta) in Tanzania. Crop Protection. 27 (1): 17-24.


Lee, K.P., Cory, J.S., Wilson, K., Raubenheimer, D. & Simpson, S.J. 2006. Flexible diet choice offsets protein costs of pathogen resistance in a caterpillar. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B. 273: 823-829.


Mushobozi, W.L., Grzywacz, D., Musebe, R., Kimani, M. & Wilson, K. 2005. New approaches to improve the livelihoods of poor farmers and pastoralists in Tanzania through monitoring and control of African armyworm, Spodoptera exempta. Aspects of Applied Biology. 75: 37-45.


Cotter, S.L., Hails, R.S., Cory, J.S. & Wilson, K. 2004. Density-dependent prophylaxis and condition-dependent immune function in Lepidopteran larvae: a multivariate approach. Journal of Animal Ecology. 73: 283-293.


Cotter, S.L., Kruuk, L.E.B. & Wilson, K. 2004. Costs of resistance: genetic correlations and potential trade-offs in an insect immune system. Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 17: 421- 429.


Wilson, K., Knell, R., Boots, M. & Koch-Osborne, J. 2003. Group living and investment in immune defence: an inter-specific analysis. Journal of Animal Ecology. 72: 133-143.


Moore, S.L. & Wilson, K. 2002. Parasites as a viability cost of sexual selection in natural populations of mammals. Science. 297: 2015-2018.


Wilson, K., Thomas, M.B., Blanford, S., Dogett, M., Simpson, S.J. & Moore, S.L. 2002. Coping with crowds: density-dependent disease resistance in desert locusts. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. 99: 5471-5475.



Book chapters:

Wilson, K. & Cotter, S.C. 2008. Density-dependent prophylaxis in insects. Chapter 10, In: Whitman, D.W. and T.N. Ananthakrishnan (eds.). Phenotypic Plasticity in Insects: Mechanisms and Consequences. pp 381- 420. Science Publishers, Enfield, NH.

Grzywacz, D., Mushobozi, W., Moscardi, F., Cory, J.S., Ray, R. & Wilson, K. 2006. Novel Technologies for Control of African Armyworm on smallholder cereals in East Africa. In: Sweetmore A. (Ed.) Perspectives on Pests II. pp 93-95. Natural Resources International Ltd, Alyesford.

Wilson, K. 2005. Evolutionary ecology of insect host-parasite interactions: an ecological immunology perspective. Chapter 10, In: Fellowes, M., Holloway, G.J. & Rolff, J. (eds.) Insect Evolutionary Ecology. pp 289-341. CABI Publishing.

Wilson, K., Grenfell, B.T., Pilkington, J.G., Boyd, H.E.G. & Gulland, F.M.D. 2004. Parasites and their impact. Chapter 5, In: Clutton-Brock, T.H.

Wilson, K. & Hardy, I.C.W. 2002. Statistical analysis of sex ratios: an introduction. Chapter 3, In: Hardy, I.C.W. (ed.) Sex Ratios: Concepts and Research Methods. pp 48-92. Cambridge University Press.

Wilson, K., Bjornstad, O.N., Dobson, A.P., Merler, S., Poglayen, G., Randolph, S.E., Read, A.F. & Skorping, A. 2002. Heterogeneities in macroparasite infections: patterns and processes. Chapter 2, In: Hudson, P.J., Rizzoli, A., Grenfell, B.T., Heesterbeek, J.A.P.

Tompkins, D.M., Arneberg, P., Begon, M.E., Cattadori, I.M., Greenman, J.V., Heesterbeek, J.A.P., Hudson, P.J., Newborn, D., Pugliese, A., Rizzoli, A.P., Rosà, R. & Wilson, K. 2002. Parasites and host population dynamics. Chapter 3, In: Hudson, P.J., Rizzoli, A., Grenfell, B.T., Heesterbeek, J.A.P.

Swinton, J., Woolhouse, M.E.J., Begon, M.E., Dobson, A.P., Ferroglio, E., Grenfell, B.T., Guberti, V., Hails, R.S., Heesterbeek, J.A.P., Lavazza, A., Roberts, M.G., White, P.J. & Wilson, K. 2002. Microparasite transmission and persistence. Chapter 5, In: Hudson, P.J., Rizzoli, A., Grenfell, B.T., Heesterbeek, J.A.P.

Wilson, K. 1998. Migration, insects. In: Knobil, E. & Neill, J.D. (eds.) Encyclopedia of Reproduction. pp. 244-250. Academic Press.

Wilson, K. 1995. Insect migration in heterogeneous environments. In: Drake, V.A. & Gatehouse, A.G. (eds.) Insect Migration: Tracking Resources in Time and Space. pp 243-264. Cambridge University Press.



Invited presentations at major international conferences (2002-present-Maximum 8)


Wilson, K. 2010. Society for Experimental Biology, International Food Security and Safety. Lancaster, United Kingdom. September 2010.


Wilson, K. 2010. International Behavioural Ecology Congress, Integrating Nutritional and Behavioral Ecology. Perth, Australia. September 2010.


Wilson, K. 2009. European Science Foundation: Impact on Environment on Innate Immunity. Innsbruck, Austria. May 2009.


Wilson, K. 2008. XIII International Congress of Entomology: Ecological Immunology of Insects. Durban, South Africa. August 2008.


Wilson, K. 2007. Royal Entomological Society: Insect Parasitism. Edinburgh, United Kingdom. July 2007.


Wilson, K. 2004. XII International Congress of Entomology: Ecological Immunology of Insects. Brisbane, Australia. July 2004.


Wilson, K. 2004. European Science Foundation: Innate Immunity. Ploen, Germany. May 2004.


Wilson, K. 2003. Royal Entomological Society: Evolutionary Ecology of Insects. Reading, United Kingdom. July 2003.


Research Grants (2004 – present):

Funding source

Grant Title (Principal investigators)

Amount US$


ESRC-NERC Inter-disciplinary studentship

Understanding and managing honey bee health in the UK: beekeeping knowledge and engagement with science and policy (Ellis, Wilson.)



DFID Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) programme

Bridging knowledge systems for pro-poor management of ecosystem services (Vermeylen, Wilson, Nyambe, Bardgett, Ochieng, Davies, van der Horst)



BBSRC Targeted Priority Studentships Award

Environmental change (Wilson, LEC consortium)



NERC Doctoral Training Grant

Survival through the Arctic winter: how gastrointestinal nematodes influence reindeer fitness (Wilson, Albon, Irvine



DFID Research Into Use programme

Safe and Affordable Armyworm Control Tools (SAACo-Tools) (CABI, Mushobozi, Grzywacz, Wilson)



BBSRC-DFID Sustainable Agriculture for International Development (SARID) Initiative

Understanding the mechanisms of persistence and dispersal of an insect pathogen and its potential for novel strategic control of African armyworms (Wilson, Grzywacz, Madoffe, Cory, Shirras)



NERC small grant

Understanding density-dependent disease resistance in insects (Wilson)



Royal Society Tanzania-UK Science Network

Biological control of forest insect pests (Wilson, Grzywacz, Madoffe)




Costs of immunity in insects: a geometric approach (PI: Wilson, Simpson)





This database is supported with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation