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Durham University

Research & business

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Dr Guillaume Chomicki

Research Fellow in the Department of Biosciences
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 41238
Room number: 168

Contact Dr Guillaume Chomicki (email at


I completed a BSc. in Plant Science at the University of Manchester, graduating with a First Class Honours. My honours thesis (in Prof. Simon R. Turner’s lab) looked at how cortical microtubules become aligned to allow for directional cell expansion during interphase in plants. I subsequently went onto a Ph.D at the University of Munich (LMU), in Prof. Susanne S. Renner’s lab, focusing on the evolution and maintenance mutualisms using ant/plant symbioses. During my Ph.D (graduated with Summa Cum Laude), I established a novel type of symbiosis as model system to study mutualism evolution. I then went onto a one-year postdoc still in Munich working with Susanne Renner, and then got a Glasstone Research Fellowship at the University of Oxford, department of Plant Sciences, and jointly an Extraordinary Junior Research Fellow of the Queen's college, Oxford. I subsequently got a NERC Independent Research Fellowship to start my group at Durham University. I am also a Fellow of the Linnean Society (elected 2013).

Research Interests

My main research interest revolves around understanding how cooperation among species – or mutualism – evolves, remain stable or breakdown and how this impacts biodiversity. Mutualisms –cooperation between species– are ubiquitous and linked to major transitions in the history of life, such as the evolution of eukaryotes or the conquest of the land by plants. They have allowed the diversification of new lineages, permitted species to access otherwise inaccessible resources and radically modified Earth’s geochemical cycles. Moreover, they are pivotal for ecosystem functioning and biodiversity maintenance worldwide, for instance by providing defence or extra nutrients to sessile organisms such as plants, or in helping us digest a good meal. Yet, mutualisms have long been a hurdle for Darwinian natural selection. Theory predicts that mutualists frequently turns into parasites and exploit their partner. Shifts to parasitism appear to be rare empirically, and thus whether cheating is an important selective force in mutualism is hotly debated. Moreover, recent data has shown that it least in some systems, freeloaders outside of the mutualisms (phylogenetically unrelated) are frequent.

My research use a combination of phylogenetic comparative methods, field experiments, 3D imaging, omics (transcriptomics, phylogenomics, comparative genomics) and physiology to understand the evolution of mutualisms and its impact on biodiversity. My work includes both system-focused experimental work, clade-level comparative analyses to global macroevolutionary analyses – aiming to integrate across these levels. A key current focus is to understand the evolution of mutualistic dependence from a functional mechanistic viewpoint all the way to the global patterns using macroecological and macroevolutionary approaches.

My empirical research uses largely ant/plant symbioses as model system, while my large-scale analyses uses the major plant insect mutualisms: pollination, seed dispersal and defence by arthropods.

Apart from my work on mutualisms, I am broadly interested in plant evolution, and have research interest in the evolution of agriculture (in humans and insects), with a focus on watermelon crop evolution. Another research focus is the evolution of plant architecture.

Research Groups

Department of Biosciences


Journal Article

  • Chomicki, Guillaume, Werner, Gijsbert D. A., West, Stuart A. & Kiers, E. Toby (2020). Compartmentalization drives the evolution of symbiotic cooperation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 375(1808): 20190602.
  • Chomicki, Guillaume, Kadereit, Gudrun, Renner, Susanne S. & Kiers, E. Toby (2020). Tradeoffs in the evolution of plant farming by ants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117(5): 2535-2543.
  • Chomicki, G. & Renner, S.S. (2019). Climate and symbioses with ants modulate leaf/stem scaling in epiphytes. Scientific Reports 9(1).
  • Chomicki, G. & Renner, S.S. (2019). Farming by ants remodels nutrient uptake in epiphytes. New Phytologist 223(4): 2011-2023.
  • Chen, G. & Chomicki, G. (2019). Highwayman fly hijacks fierce trap-jaw ants. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 17(5): 278.
  • Chomicki, G., Schaefer, H. & Renner, S.S. (2019). Origin and domestication of Cucurbitaceae crops: insights from phylogenies, genomics and archaeology. New Phytologist
  • Chomicki, G., Weber, M., Antonelli, A., Bascompte, J. & Kiers, E.T. (2019). The Impact of Mutualisms on Species Richness. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 34(8): 698-711.
  • Chomicki, G., Staedler, Y.M., Bidel, L.P.R., Jay-Allemand, C., Schönenberger, J. & Renner, S.S. (2018). Deciphering the complex architecture of an herb using micro-computed X-ray tomography, with an illustrated discussion on architectural diversity of herbs. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 186(2): 145-157.
  • Coiro, M., Chomicki, G. & Doyle, J.A. (2018). Experimental signal dissection and method sensitivity analyses reaffirm the potential of fossils and morphology in the resolution of the relationship of angiosperms and Gnetales. Paleobiology 44(3): 490-510.
  • Martins, A.C., Bochorny, T., Pérez-Escobar, O.A., Chomicki, G., Monteiro, S.H.N. & de Camargo Smidt, E. (2018). From tree tops to the ground: Reversals to terrestrial habit in Galeandra orchids (Epidendroideae: Catasetinae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 127: 952-960.
  • Sills, J., Pérez-Escobar, O.A., Cámara-Leret, R., Antonelli, A., Bateman, R., Bellot, S., Chomicki, G., Cleef, A., Diazgranados, M., Dodsworth, S., Jaramillo, C., Madriñan, S., Olivares, I., Zuluaga, A. & Bernal, R. (2018). Mining threatens colombian ecosystems. Science 359(6383): 1475.
  • Pérez-Escobar, O.A., Gottschling, M., Chomicki, G., Condamine, F.L., Klitgård, B.B., Pansarin, E. & Gerlach, G. (2017). Andean Mountain Building Did not Preclude Dispersal of Lowland Epiphytic Orchids in the Neotropics. Scientific Reports 7(1).
  • Renner, S.S., Sousa, A. & Chomicki, G. (2017). Chromosome numbers, sudanese wild forms, and classification of the watermelon genus Citrullus, with 50 names allocated to seven biological species. Taxon 66(6): 1393-1405.
  • Chomicki, G., Coiro, M. & Renner, S.S. (2017). Evolution and ecology of plant architecture: Integrating insights from the fossil record, extant morphology, developmental genetics and phylogenies. Annals of Botany 120(6): 855-891.
  • Pérez-Escobar, O.A., Chomicki, G., Condamine, F.L., De Vos, J.M., Martins, A.C., Smidt, E.C., Klitgård, B., Gerlach, G. & Heinrichs, J. (2017). Multiple Geographical Origins of Environmental Sex Determination enhanced the diversification of Darwin's Favourite Orchids. Scientific Reports 7(1).
  • Chomicki, G. & Renner, S.S. (2017). Partner abundance controls mutualism stability and the pace of morphological change over geologic time. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114(15): 3951-3956.
  • Pérez-Escobar, O.A., Chomicki, G., Condamine, F.L., Karremans, A.P., Bogarín, D., Matzke, N.J., Silvestro, D. & Antonelli, A. (2017). Recent origin and rapid speciation of Neotropical orchids in the world's richest plant biodiversity hotspot. New Phytologist 215(2): 891-905.
  • Gutiérrez-Valencia, J., Chomicki, G. & Renner, S.S. (2017). Recurrent breakdowns of mutualisms with ants in the neotropical ant-plant genus Cecropia (Urticaceae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 111: 196-205.
  • Sauquet, H., Von Balthazar, M., Magallón, S., Doyle, J.A., Endress, P.K., Bailes, E.J., Barroso De Morais, E., Bull-Hereñu, K., Carrive, L., Chartier, M., Chomicki, G., Coiro, M., Cornette, R., El Ottra, J.H.L., Epicoco, C., Foster, C.S.P., Jabbour, F., Haevermans, A., Haevermans, T., Hernández, R., Little, S.A., Löfstrand, S., Luna, J.A., Massoni, J., Nadot, S., Pamperl, S., Prieu, C., Reyes, E., Dos Santos, P., Schoonderwoerd, K.M., Sontag, S., Soulebeau, A., Staedler, Y., Tschan, G.F., Wing-Sze Leung, A. & Schönenberger, J. (2017). The ancestral flower of angiosperms and its early diversification. Nature Communications 8.
  • Chomicki, G., Janda, M. & Renner, S.S. (2017). The assembly of ant-farmed gardens: Mutualism specialization following host broadening. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 284(1850).
  • Chomicki, G. & Renner, S.S. (2017). The interactions of ants with their biotic environment. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 284(1850).
  • Chomicki, G. & Renner, S.S. (2016). Obligate plant farming by a specialized ant. Nature Plants 2(12): 16181.
  • Chomicki, G., Staedler, Y.M., Schönenberger, J. & Renner, S.S. (2016). Partner choice through concealed floral sugar rewards evolved with the specialization of ant-plant mutualisms. The New phytologist 211(4): 1358-1370.
  • Chomicki, G., Bidel, L.P.R., Ming, F., Coiro, M., Zhang, X., Wang, Y., Baissac, Y., Jay-Allemand, C. & Renner, S.S. (2015). The velamen protects photosynthetic orchid roots against UV-B damage, and a large dated phylogeny implies multiple gains and losses of this function during the Cenozoic. New Phytologist 205(3): 1330-1341.
  • Chomicki, G. & Renner, S.S. (2015). Watermelon origin solved with molecular phylogenetics including Linnaean material: Another example of museomics. New Phytologist 205(2): 526-532.