Fitz News

News from the FitzPatrick Institute

Current news | Fitz news archive


Senior Lecturer candidate presentations: 17 October 2014

Following the retirement of Prof. Tim Crowe, we have advertised to fill the post of Senior Lecturer at the FitzPatrick Institute, UCT. Four short-listed candidates will give presentations as part of the selection process. They have been requested to present a seminar that gives an overview of their past research, and to indicate how they see their research developing if they were appointed to this position.  Specifically, they should identify the 'big' research questions that they would like to address in the next 5-10 years.

Date:      Friday 17 October 2014

Venue:   Niven Library, FitzPatrick Institute, UCT

11:00   Dr Rita Covas Monteiro
(Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources CIBIO, University of Portugal)

Title:    The evolution of sociality and life history strategies in birds and their consequences
           for population dynamics: integrating long-term studies, field experiments and
           comparative analyses of island systems

Abstract:  I will provide a brief overview of my past research and identify the key topics of my research for the years ahead. My previous work has focused mainly on social evolution and life-history strategies using 1) a long-term study on the Sociable Weaver from southern Africa, and
2) a comparative broad-scale study of island birds, as well as a detailed field-based study in the Gulf of Guinea islands and Gabon. Over the following years, I plan to investigate some central, unresolved issues in social evolution, reproductive strategies and adaptation on islands. Specifically, 1) using the Sociable Weaver system I will examine the role of direct vs. indirect
(i.e. kin-selected) fitness benefits for the evolution of cooperation and 2) investigate the links between social behaviour and population dynamics. 3) Using broad-scale comparative analyses,
I will investigate the ecological and life-history factors that promote the evolution of sociality and cooperation across birds. 4) Using both the global database and the Gulf of Guinea study,
I intend to test authoritatively some disputed mechanisms underlying the evolution of several aspects of the ‘insularity syndrome’ (e.g. parasite pressures, immune-competence, physiology) and provide novel insights into previously unstudied patterns (e.g. cooperation, sexual selection).

12:00   Dr Jesus Martinez-Padilla
(Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Department of Evolutionary Biology, Spain)

Title:    Embracing behavioural ecology from a multidimensional perspective: new venues and

Abstract:  Behavioural ecology aims to understand the evolutionary meaning of animal behaviour.
The three pillars of evolution are variation of phenotypes, their heritability and their differential association with fitness traits. Thus, I consider that behavioural ecology needs a dissection of the mechanisms that produce their variation, how they are (naturally/sexually) selected and, finally, how they are transmitted across generations. I will briefly show how my academic experience on animal behaviour in general and sexual selection in particular stands on these three vertices. Further, I will also suggest how behavioural ecology needs to walk along other fields like population dynamics, conservation biology and biogeography to understand how evolution works to help resolving conservation issues. This is tightly linked to the fact that our current knowledge of the evolutionary ecology of animal behaviour is highly associated with very few study populations geographically located in specific areas and even a lower number of study species. Overall, in this talk I aim to briefly resume my academic trajectory, exposing new venues needed to improve our knowledge of behavioural ecology using new species and integrating other scientific fields.

14:00    A/Prof. Anton Pauw
Department of Botany & Zoology, Stellenbosch University)

Title:    A bird’s eye view of ecology

Abstract:  Interactions between species link all of biodiversity together. A long-term goal is to understand how these interactions influence the distribution and abundance of species and shape their evolution. In this presentation I show how the study of the mutualistic interaction between nectar-feeding birds and bird-pollinated plants can lead us towards this goal. I focus on the Cape Floristic Region of South Africa, where Cape Sugarbirds Promerops cafer and five Sunbird species (Nectariniidae) pollinate approximately 400 plant species, including the dominant Protea shrubs. Our correlative analyses of nectar-feeding birds and Protea distribution data show strong patterns of co-occurrence. To test the role of the mutualistic bird-plant interaction in driving this pattern, we have initiated a mega-scale bird exclusion experiment in Protea-dominated Fynbos vegetation. If bird-pollination is critical for seed production, we expect to see the plant community composition inside the exclosures shift away from dominance by bird-pollinated species. In a complementary experiment we are adding nectar plants to school grounds. If nectar availability limits the distribution of birds we should observe increasing representation by nectar-feeding birds in the bird communities on school grounds. These tests will show us how to conserve nectar-feeding birds and their plants.

15:00    Dr Robert Thomson
            (Section of Ecology, Department of Biology, University of Turku, Finland)

Title:  Species interactions in stressful environments

Abstract:  The emerging recognition of the importance of positive species interactions is challenging traditional emphasis on negative interactions in ecology. This shift benefited from evidence that animals actively gather information, prior to decision-making, to respond to environmental uncertainty. Information may stem from observing others, and often ‘enemies’ such as competitors or predators, provide the most relevant cues. Understanding this interplay of negative and positive interactions in animal communities, and the consequences for individual behaviour and community structure is the continued focus of my research. I broaden questions to examine how species interactions that result in amelioration of environmental stress, may have community-wide impacts on biodiversity; and how these impacts and interactions vary with changing habitat. For example, a novel system for studying interactions in increasingly heat-stressed environments is the community centered around Sociable Weavers and their nests, which host a range of avian and non-avian species. Predators, competitors and commensals “live under the same roof”; interactions among associates provide exciting opportunities for investigating information use and its consequences. The demography and natural history of associate species may be profoundly shaped by information use. Understanding how interactions can enhance community resilience is vital, as is identifying aspects of systems requiring conservation vigilance.

Please report any sightings of ringed Swift Terns

Swift Terns are one of the few locally-breeding seabirds whose numbers are increasing., To help understand the main factors driving the positive trend of this species, a team of researchers from the Percy FitzPatrick Institute and the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town marked 500 Swift Tern chicks from Robben Island in April 2013 and 2014 with metal and individually engraved colour rings. In 2013, members of the public reported how these birds dispersed, providing information on the fledging success, survival and dispersal of juvenile Swift Terns, which were re-sighted from Namibia to the Eastern Cape. Gathering dispersal records is a time consuming but important task that relies on assistance from volunteers across southern Africa.

Rings in 2014 are orange and yellow (with black text) and green and blue (with white text), and are engraved with an “A” followed by a letter and a number (e.g. AU2). Rings from 2013 are yellow and white (with black text) and green and blue (with white text), and bear a code of one letter and one number (e.g. U2).  The majority of the colour rings are top-down and all are on the right leg.

If you see any ringed birds please record their location as accurately as possible (ideally GPS), the date and time of sighting, ring colour, letters on the ring (if legible) and age class (juvenile or immature). If a bird is found dead, please also record the number of the metal ring. Send the information to Davide Gaglio at

Thanks for your help!

Last modified: 2014/11/04
Copyright: Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology 2014
Please address any comments or enquiries about this website to the
page coordinator.