Honorary Research Associates

Dr Ross Wanless

Ross Wanless
BSc (Hons), MSc, PhD(Cape Town)

Fax: +27 86 545 4319


Ross graduated with a BSc in Zoology from UCT in 1992. Since then he has worked as a Scientific Observer for South Africa's Patagonian Toothfish longline fishery observer programme. He has also worked as a Scientific Officer at the Avian Demography Unit, with John Cooper and BirdLife International's Seabird Conservation Programme, which included creating and maintaining the project website. Ross completed his BSc Honours at UCT in 1998 with distinction. He was then invited to join a small team that spent three months researching and monitoring seabirds and seals on the remote sub-Antarctic island of Bouvet in 1998/1999. In April 1999 he joined the Fitz for his Masters with Prof. Phil Hockey. Ross conducted a highly successful reintroduction of the flightless Aldabra Rail in the Seychelles and graduated in June 2002, again with distinction. He did an eight-month internship with the US-based Island Conservation in 2002/2003, working on several island restoration projects in the US and northwest Mexico. He then returned to the Fitz, spending a full year on remote Gough Island", under Prof. Peter Ryan. He graduated in December 2007, winning the medal for the best PhD thesis in the Science Faculty during 2007. His thesis took 3rd place in an international thesis competition run by the United Nations Environmental Programme and the Convention on Migratory Species.

Ross is now Seabird Division manager for BirdLife South Africa, as well as the Africa Coordinator for the Global Seabird Programme (BirdLife International). His work involves establishing marine Important Bird Areas throughout Africa and associated islands, managing the Albatross Task Force activities (to reduce seabird mortality in fisheries) in South Africa and Namibia, and strengthening seabird conservation measures and implementation in multi-lateral fisheries organisations, particularly the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission and ICCAT in the Atlantic Ocean. In 2009 he secured funding for an initial 3-year research and conservation intervention for the African Penguin, and is also involved in several other national seabird conservation actions.

Ross was appointed an honorary research associate in August 2009. He is currently co-supervising Dominic Rollinson's PhD thesis and Jenny Roberts' MSc thesis. Ross is also co-supervising (with Peter) Tim Reid's postdoctoral work on marine Important Bird Areas. Support for research on African Penguins is in the form of funding for Lorien Pichegru and the Animal Demography Unit's Fitsum Gabresellasie. Ross regularly writes articles of ornithological interest for popular publications and is a contributing author for the new Robert’s Birds of Southern Africa. His research interests include conservation and ecology of island systems, seabird ecology, stable light isotope applications in conservation, and evolutionary biology.

Research programmes

Seabird Research, Island conservation

Current students


Dominic Rollinson: Reducing seabird bycatch from the longline fishing industry (Co-supervisor: Peter Ryan)


Jenny Roberts: Tracking African Penguins in the non-breeding season (Co-supervisors: Peter Ryan, Lorien Pichegru, Christina Moseley)

Graduated students


Viviane Barquete Costa. 2012. Using stable isotopes as a tool to understand the trophic relationships and movements of seabirds off southern Africa. PhD Thesis, University of Cape Town. (Co-supervisor: Peter Ryan).

Conservation Biology Masters

Craig Harding. 2013 Tracking post-breeding African Penguins (Co-supervisor: Peter Ryan)

Recent peer-reviewed publications


Cherel, Y., Jaeger, A., Alderman, R., Jaquemet, S., Richard, P., Wanless, R.M., Phillips, R.A. & Thompson, D.R. 2013. A comprehensive isotopic investigation of habitat preferences in nonbreeding albatrosses from the southern ocean. Ecography 36:277-286.

Croxall, J., Small, C., Sullivan, B., Wanless, R.M., Frere, E., Lascelles, B., Ramirez, I., Sato, M. & Yates, O. (2013). Appropriate scales and data to manage seabird-fishery interactions: comment on Torres et al. (2013). Marine Ecology Progress Series 493:297-300.

Jaeger, A., Jaquemet, S., Phillips, R.A., Wanless, R.M., Richard, P. & Cherel, Y. (2013). Stable isotopes document inter- and intra-specific variation in feeding ecology of nine large southern Procellariiformes. Marine Ecology Progress Series 490:255-266.

Reid, T.A., Wanless, R.M., Hilton, G.M., Phillips, R.A. & Ryan, P.G. (2013). Foraging range and habitat associations of non-breeding Tristan albatrosses: overlap with fisheries and implications for conservation. Endangered Species Research 22:39-49.


Pichegru, L., Ryan, P.G., van Eeden, R., Reid, T., Grémillet, D. & Wanless, R.M. 2012. Industrial fishing, no-take zones and endangered penguins. Biological Conservation 156:117-125.

Wanless, R.M., Ratcliffe, N., Angel, A., Bowie, B.C., Cita, K., Hilton, G.M., Kritzinger, P., Ryan, P.G. & Slabber, M. 2012. Predation of Atlantic Petrel chicks by house mice on Gough Island. Animal Conservation 15:472-479.


Hockey, P.A.R., Wanless, R.M. & von Brandis, R. 2011. Demographic resilience of territorial island birds to extinction: the flightless Aldabra Rail (Dryolimnas [cuvieri] aldabranus) as an example. Ostrich 82:1-9.

Tuck, G.N., Phillips, R.A., Small, C., Thomson, R.B., Klaer, N.L., Taylor, F., Wanless, R.M. & Arrizabalaga, H. 2011. An assessment of seabird-fishery interactions in the Atlantic Ocean. ICES Journal of Marine Science 68:1628-1637.


Hockey, P.A.R., Wanless, R.M. & von Brandis, R. 2010. Demographic resilience of territorial island birds to extinction: the flightless Aldabra Rail (Dryolimnas [cuvieri] aldabranus) as an example. Ostrich 82:1-9.

Techow, N.M.S.M., O’Ryan, C., Phillips, R.A., Gales, R., Marin, M., Patterson-Fraser, D., Quintana, F., Ritz, M.S., Thompson, D.R., Wanless, R.M., Weimerskirch, H. & Ryan, P.G. 2010. Speciation and phylogeography of giant petrels Macronectes Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 54:472-487.

Wanless, R.M., Scott, S., Sauer, W.H.H., Andrew, T.G., Glass, J.P., Godfrey, B., Griffiths,C. & Yeld, E. 2010. Semi-submersible rigs: transporting marine ecosystems around the world. Biological Invasions 12:2573–2583.

Wanless, R.M., Cooper, J., Slabber, M.J. & Ryan, P.G. 2010. Risk assessment of birds foraging terrestrially at Marion and Gough Islands to primary and secondary poisoning by rodenticides. Wildlife Research 37:524-530.

Wilson, J.W., Wanless, R.M., Burle, M.-H., Angel, A., Kritzinger, P. & Stead, B. 2010. Breeding biology of Brown Noddies Anous stolidus at their southern-most breeding site, Gough Island, in comparison to other sites. Ardea 98: 242–246.