The Lord May of Oxford OM AC Kt HonFREng FRS

Robert was a theoretical ecologist, promoter of science and political influencer. Pioneering a mathematical approach to ecology, Robert established the field of theoretical ecology and developed influential and highly cited theories in population biology. He held several high-profile positions in the UK scientific and political establishments.

Robert began a successful research career as a theoretical physicist but turned his attention and skills to ecology in the 1970s. By applying mathematical techniques to populations and ecosystems, Robert first focused on unpicking the relationship between complexity and stability in natural communities — the May–Wigner stability theorem. More recently he has been working with the Bank of England on stability and complexity in banking systems.

In 1996, Robert was knighted for services to science. He became one of the first life peers in the House of Lords in 2001 and was appointed by Her Majesty The Queen to the Order of Merit in 2002. He served in several high-profile roles, including President of the Royal Society and Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK government. Major prizes include the Swedish Craaford Prize, the Japanese Blue Planet Prize, and the Swiss-Italian Balzan Prize.

Lord May of Oxford OM AC Kt HonFREng FRS died on 28 April 2020.

Professional position

  • Professor of Zoology, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford

Subject groups

  • Organismal biology, evolution and ecology

    Epidemiology (non-clinical), Ecology (incl behavioural ecology), Environmental biology, Biological modelling, Evolution, Population genetics

  • Other

    Science policy

  • Mathematics

    Applied mathematics and theoretical physics

  • Health and human sciences



  • Balzan Prize

    For biodiversity.

  • Blackett and Jagdish Chandra Bose Memorial Lectures

    On 'Science advice, policy making and public confidence'.

  • Copley Medal

    For his seminal studies of interactions within and among biological populations that have reshaped our understanding of how species, communities and entire ecosystems respond to natural or human created disturbance.

  • Crafoord Prize

    In the field of biosciences for ecological research.

  • Croonian Medal and Lecture

    No citation available for this award.

The Lord May of Oxford OM AC Kt HonFREng FRS
Elected 1979