Director, Highlands Field Site

(828) 526-2602

Highlands Biological Station



Jim Costa is executive director of the Highlands Biological Station in Highlands, NC, and professor of Biology at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC, where he has taught courses in genetics, entomology, biogeography and evolution. Jim writes and lectures widely on Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, insect life, and island evolution. An entomologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science, he has authored five books, most recently Darwin’s Backyard (Norton, 2017)—an exploration of Darwin’s rich life as an inveterate “experimentiser,” where simple yet ingenious experiments on myriad topics yielded universal truths about nature and evidence for arguments in On the Origin of Species and other watershed works. With a special interest in science education, Jim also explores how Darwin’s working method holds lessons for us today: following his lead, modern readers can recreate his experiments in home and school, inspiring a new generation to think like a scientist.

As co-director and instructor in the IE-Highlands Field Site program, Jim teaches geology, biogeography, and philosophy of wilderness. He especially enjoys introducing students to the “natural classroom” of the biologically rich southern Appalachian region. Sited on the edge of the Blue Ridge Escarpment, straddling the eastern continental divide and situated at the headwaters of several major river systems, the Highlands Biological Station is an ideal base for IE-HFS explorations.


Ph.D., University of Georgia, evolutionary genetics, 1992
M.S., University of Georgia, insect ecology, 1988
B.S., SUNY Cortland, biological sciences, 1985

Selected Publications


Costa J. T. 2017. Darwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory. New York: W. W. Norton, 464 pp.

Costa J. T. 2014. Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 352 pp.

Costa, J. T. 2013. On the Organic Law of Change: A Facsimile Edition and Annotated Transcription of Alfred Russel Wallace’s Species Notebook of 1855-1859. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 559 pp.

Costa, J. T. (text) and R. M. Sargent (photographer). 2012. Highlands Botanical Garden: A Naturalist’s Guide. Highlands, NC: Highlands Biological Foundation, Inc., 250 pp.

Costa, J. T. 2009. The Annotated Origin: A Facsimile of the First Edition of On the Origin of Species. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 576 pp.

Costa, J. T. 2006. The Other Insect Societies. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 812 pp.


Costa, J. T. 2017. On the face of it: Darwin and the evolution of expression. Undark Magazine, 3 November 2017:

Woodley, S. K, J. T. Costa, and R. Bruce. 2017. Introduction to the Special Highlands Conference on Plethodontid Salamander Biology. Herpetologica 73: 177–179.

Costa, J. T. 2015. The consilient Mr. Wallace. Skeptic Magazine 20(3): 18-23.

Morris, J. R., J. T. Costa, and A. Berry. 2015. Adaptations: Using Darwin’s Origin to teach biology and writing. Evolution 69: 2556-2560.

Costa, J. T. 2015. Sailing the backyard Beagle: Darwin-inspired voyages of discovery in backyard and schoolyard. pp. 131-146 In: C. Boulter, D. Sanders, and M. Reiss (eds.), Darwin-Inspired Learning. Rotterdam and Boston: Sense Publishers.

Costa, J. T. 2014. Rediscovering Wallace’s ‘Species Notebook.’ Reports of the National Center for Science Education 34(3): 1.1-1.5.

Costa, J. T. 2013. Hamiltonian inclusive fitness: A fitter fitness concept. Biology Letters 9(6): 20130335. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2013.0335.

Costa, J. T. 2013. Engaging with Lyell: Alfred Russel Wallace’s Sarawak Law and Ternate papers as reactions to Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology. Theory in Biosciences 132(4): 225-237.