Wesleyan portrait of Sonia  Sultan

Sonia Sultan

Alan M. Dachs Professor of Science

Professor of Biology

Shanklin Laboratory, 311

Professor, Environmental Studies



Visit Professional Website

BA Princeton University
MA Harvard University
PHD Harvard University

Sonia Sultan

Sonia E. Sultan is an evolutionary ecologist who studies the interplay of genetic and environmental factors in biological inheritance and individual development. Her plant 'evo-eco-devo' research group studies how plants develop and function differently in response to different environmental conditions, in particular to factors that vary in nature such as light and shade, soil moisture, and key nutrients. To examine these responses, Sultan's lab determines response patterns or norms of reaction for genetic individuals collected from natural populations. These experiments reveal how flexible repertoires of response give rise to functional and reproductive variation, and how these repertoires differ genotypically and epigenetically. Sultan has long been a major contributor to the empirical and conceptual literatures on individual response plasticity and its relation to both ecological breadth and adaptive evolution. In Fall 2015, she published many of these ideas in a monograph entitled Organism and Environment: Ecological Development, Niche Construction and Adaptation (Oxford University Press; short-listed for the Royal Society of Biology Best Graduate Text); she has subsequently extended her conceptual work to address the concept of biological agency. Sultan's current experimental work focuses on four questions:(1) inherited effects of parental conditions on development and ecological performance; (2) the relation of individual plasticity to invasiveness; (3) genotype-specific trajectories for the developmental integration of transgenerational and current environmental influences; and (4, in collaboration with the Eaton Lab at Columbia University) how an alloploid plant differentially draws on the genomes of its parent species for stress response .


Sultan graduated summa cum laude in History and Philosophy of Science at Princeton University and then traveled the world for two years before going on to graduate work in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard. As a graduate student, Sultan developed her interdisciplinary approach to developmental plasticity, working with plant ecologist Fakhri A. Bazzaz and population geneticist Richard Lewontin, and publishing an influential review paper in Evolutionary Biology. After completing her M.A. and Ph.D., she was awarded an independent CPB Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of California’s (Davis) Center for Population Biology and spent three years there before joining the  Biology Department faculty at Wesleyan in 1994. Sultan has been a guest researcher at the University of Otago and the Liggins Institute in New Zealand and was a 2012-13 Resident Fellow of the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study (Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin). In Spring 2023 she was awarded a Visiting Fellowship at the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition (KLI) outside Vienna, and was subsequently appointed to the Institute's External Faculty.

Academic Affiliations

Office Hours

Tuesdays 4-5:30 pm