Academic staff

Dr Robert Thomson

Dr Robert Thomson
PhD (Oulu, Finland)

John Day Building: 2.06
Tel: +27 (0)21 650 3699
Fax: +27 (0)21 650 3295


Activities and research interests

Robert has a broad interest in bird ecology, but is especially interested in between-species interactions. He comes from Pretoria, and grew up birding and ringing in the bushveld areas. He did his undergraduate studies at the University of Pretoria, studying mixed species bird flocks in Nylsvlei Nature Reserve for his BSc Hons. These studies led to him being a field assistant in northern Finland. This stint became his MSc thesis at the University of Oulu, which tested the heterspecific attraction hypothesis that migrant songbirds unexpectedly attract to resident songbirds during their habitat selection decisions. He continued with his PhD in Oulu too, further investigating the positive associations in Boreal bird communities, but incorporating the interplay of negative, predation and competition, interactions. He defended his thesis in 2006, and moved to southern Finland to take up a post-doc position at the University of Turku investigating various aspects of raptors and their impact on songbird community structure.

During the avian influenza (AI) crises in 2007, Robert was offered the chance to lead AI surveillance efforts in Cambodia for the Wildlife Conservation Society, and also assisted with surveillance work in Mongolia. He then returned to Finland where he has held a series of research fellowships investigating avian habitat selection decisions in the face of ‘enemies’ and the life history of endangered wader populations in the Bothnian bay.

In addition to these ongoing projects, Robert has initiated two new research projects in the last few years that use unique study systems to answer questions of interest. He has been working on:

  • The importance of Sociable Weaver colonies in the Kalahari and their use by other avian species and other taxa. Investigating how these communities and their interactions change at weaver nests across aridity gradients. This work has also focused on the African Pygmy Falcon, an obligate user of these weaver nests, and their life history and interactions with their weaver hosts.
  • Understanding front-line defences in brood parasite – host interactions. For these studies he is using the redstart-common cuckoo system, unique because the redstart is the only known cavity nesting host of the common cuckoo, that present interesting challenges for the cuckoo.

Research programmes
Ecological & Evolutionary Physiology, Life history strategies.

Current students

Diana Bolopo: Interations and coevolution between African Pygmy Falcons Polihierax semitorquatus and Sociable Weavers Philetairus socius.

Jordan-Laine Calder: Investigating the viability and potential impact of vulture restaurants as a strategy to conserve South Africa's plummeting vulture populations. (Co-supervisors: Arjun Amar, Andrea Santangeli)

Anthony Lowney: Weaver nests as a resource to Kalahari animals: positive associations in the structure and function of a community in a stressful environment.

Jere Tolvanen (Univ. Oulu, Finland): Ecological consequences and heritability of social information use in animals (Co-supervisors: Jukka Forsman (Oulu), Veli-Matti Pakanen (Oulu))

Masters (Dissertation)
Andrew de Blocq van Scheltinga: Assessing the impacts of boat-based tourism on waterbirds at De Hoop Vlei. (Co-supervisor: Peter Ryan).

Masters (Conservation Biology)
Christie Craig: An assessment of the anthropogenic threats to vultures in the communal farmlands of Namibia. (Co-supervisor: Andrea Santangeli)

Carles Dura: Quantifying the level of predation on tortoises by pied crows in south western South Africa (Co-supervisor: Arjun Amar)


Recent peer-reviewed publications
For a full list of Robert's publications, go to Google Scholar.