Teaching Students About Dr. Chris Humphries

Introducing students to the influential figures in ecology can help increase their understanding and appreciation for this important scientific discipline. One prominent figure worthy of study is Dr. Chris Humphries: a pioneering ecologist and educator instrumental in developing the advancements in biogeography, systematics, and conservation biology. This article aims to provide an overview of Chris Humphries’ life, his contributions to the field of ecology, and methods for teaching students about his work effectively.

Early Life and Education

Chris Humphries was born in London on February 20th, 1947. He developed a love for nature early in his life, which eventually led him to pursue a degree in botany at the University of Reading. In 1969, he went on to receive a Ph.D. in systematic botany from the University of Bristol. During his Ph.D., he began focusing on geographical distribution patterns across plant species, especially those within the family Compositae.

Career and Contributions

After completing his Ph.D., Humphries began a two-year postdoc position at the University of Helsinki. There, he focused on floristics—the study of plants’ geographic distributions. This set the foundation for his research into biogeography, which aimed at understanding plants’ distribution across the world and their evolutionary relationships.

In 1975, he became an assistant professor at the University of Reading where he continued to delve deeper into biogeography studies. Following this, he received an offer from The Natural History Museum, London (then known as The British Museum) to lead their botanical research division. It became one of the most productive periods of his career as he expanded on the techniques that integrated geology, taxonomy, and geography.

Humphries co-authored two highly influential research papers with Lynne Parenti during this time—’Cladistics,’ published in 1981 and ‘Phylogenetic biogeography,’ in 1986. These works laid the foundations for a modern understanding of biogeography.

Teaching Strategies for Chris Humphries’ Work

To engage students in Chris Humphries’ accomplishments and research contributions, consider using these teaching strategies:

1. Biographical Introduction: Start with explaining Chris Humphries’ early life, detailing how his childhood experiences prepared him for his illustrious career. Grasping his personal journey can help students connect with Humphries on a more relatable level.

2. Focused Discussions: Hold classroom discussions about the significance of biogeography, systematics, and conservation biology during Humphries’ time of research. Ensure that students understand how his work aided in advancing each of these fields.

3. Interactive Learning: Use hands-on activities, such as creating visual aids that demonstrate principles related to biogeography, cladistics, and the distribution of plant species that Humphries studied. This can help students better visualize how his work contributed to the realm of ecology.

4. Case Studies: Incorporate case studies relevant to Humphries’ work on the Compositae family into your lessons. Ask your students to analyze maps depicting plant distributions and relate them to geological features that influenced their emergence.

5. Exploring Legacy: Discuss how Chris Humphries’ work has influenced modern ecological studies and encourage students to explore contemporary research built upon his findings.


Teaching about pioneers like Dr. Chris Humphries is important for fostering students’ passion for ecology and understanding the interconnectedness between different biological, geographical, and geological aspects. Utilizing engaging teaching strategies can help captivate students’ interest as they delve into the study of this influential figure’s work within ecological sciences.