Professor Kevin FosterBack to People

Subjects: Biological Sciences
Department: Zoology
College appointment: Tutorial Fellow
Phone: 01865 281305


Kevin Foster studies the evolution of interactions between organisms, particularly microorganisms. After a first degree at Cambridge, Kevin moved to a Ph.D. in Sheffield under Francis Ratnieks studying the yellowjacket wasps with the goal of dissecting the conflict and cooperation that occurs within their societies. Next was the study of the slime mould Dictyostelium discoideum at Rice University in Texas. D. discoideum transitions from single cells to a multicellular life stage in which many cells die to form a stalk that hold the others aloft as spores. This resembles the self-sacrificial workers that help the queen in social insects and formed a bridge from the world of insects to that of microbes. After time in Berlin and Helsinki doing theory, Kevin started up a lab as a Bauer Fellow at the Harvard Center for Systems Biology where his focus moved to more conventional microbes, in particular bacteria and yeast. A few years ago, the lab moved to Oxford where Kevin is now a Tutorial Fellow at Magdalen and Professor of Evolutionary Biology in the Department of Zoology.


Evolutionary biology and ecology. In particular, Kevin convenes and runs a course of social evolution.

Research Interests

The Foster lab studies the social lives of microbes and other group-living species. Organisms regularly meet members of their own and other species. Whenever these interactions affect survival and reproduction – the currencies of Darwin’s natural selection – they are “social” in evolutionary terms. This is social evolution and the lab studies social evolution in a diverse range of systems, including insects, humans, and even sperm. Some work is theoretical and some is experimental. Member of the group also write reviews of key concepts and debates in social evolution. And in recent years, the lab has come to particularly focus on species whose sociality is often overlooked: the microbes. See: http://zoo-kfoster.zoo.ox.ac.uk/

Selected Publications

  1. Rakoff-Nahoum S, Foster KR, Comstock L. 2016. The evolution of cooperation within the gut microbiota. Nature, 533: 255–259.
  2. Biernaskie J, Foster KR. 2016. Ecology and multilevel selection explain aggression in spider colonies. Ecology Letters, 19: 873-879.
  3. Oliveira N, Foster KR, Durham W. 2016. Single-cell twitching chemotaxis in developing biofilms, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online early.
  4. Nadell CD, Drescher K, Foster KR. 2016 Spatial structure, cooperation, and competition in biofilms, Nature Reviews Microbiology, online early.
  5. McLoughlin K, Schluter K, Rakoff-Nahoum S, Smith A, Foster KR. 2016. Host selection of microbiota via differential adhesion. Cell Host and Microbe, 19: 550–559.
  6. Kim W, Levy SB, Foster KR. 2016. Rapid radiation in bacteria leads to a division of labour. Nature Communications, 7, doi:10.1038/ncomms10508
  7. Mitri S, Clarke E, Foster KR. 2015. Resource limitation drives spatial organization in microbial groups. ISME journal, doi:10.1038/ismej.2015.208.
  8. Niehus R, Mitri S, Fletcher A, Foster KR. 2015. Migration and horizontal gene transfer divide microbial genomes into multiple niches. Nature Communications, 6, doi:10.1038/ncomms9924.
  9. Coyte KZ, Schluter J, Foster KR. 2015. The ecology of the microbiome: networks, competition, and stability. Science, 350: 663-666
  10. Oliveira NM, Martinez-Garcia E, Xavier J, Durham WM, Kolter R, Kim W, and Foster KR. 2015. Biofilm formation as a response to ecological competition. PLoS Biology, 13: e1002191.