Doctoral Students

Kate Carstens


  Kate Carstens MSc (UKZN)




Kate completed her MSc in Zoology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2007. Her thesis project focussed on characterising genetic markers for detecting illegal trade in Blue Cranes Grus paradisea. She then participated in various research projects abroad, studying Mouse Lemurs in Ankaranfantsika, Madagascar, and researching Honeyeaters and Thornbills in Australia and Tasmania. A quick stint working and travelling in Europe cured the travel bug and Kate came back to South Africa in mid-2010 where she joined the Mabula Ground Hornbill Research and Conservation Project. Kate joined the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology during 2011 and is based at the Associated Private Nature Reserves where she manages the Fitztitute’s Southern Ground-Hornbill Conservation Project, amongst other things keeping a close eye on the movements and breeding success of Southern Ground-Hornbill groups.

There is much we still need to learn about this incredibly intelligent cooperative breeder. How related are individuals within and between groups? Does relatedness between individuals decline with an increase in geographic distance? How far do males and females disperse and is there a sex bias in dispersal? These are some of the questions Kate will tackle in her PhD using a combination of field observations and molecular methods. She’ll also be drawing on data from the Fitz’s long term project monitoring Ground-Hornbill groups in the Lowveld region of South Africa.

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Thesis (Submitted March 2017)

Nest boxes as a conservation tool for the Southern Ground Hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri (Supervisors: Peter Ryan, Rob Little, Robert Thomson)

Research programmes

Cooperative breeding and sociality in birds

Peer reviewed publications


Thorén, S., Carstens, K.F., Schwochow, D., and Radespiel, U. 2016. Your food, my food: patterns of resource use in two sympatric mouse lemur species. In The Dwarf and Mouse Lemurs of Madagascar: Biology, Behavior and Conservation Biogeography of the Cheirogaleidae Edited by S. M. Lehman, U. Radespiel, and E. Zimmermann, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp. 307-318


Carstens, K.F. 2014. Egg-capping in the Southern Ground-Hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri. Ostrich 85:89-91. IF 0.431


Thorén, S., Quietzsch, F., Schwochow, D., Sehen, L., Meusel C., Meares, K., Radespiel, U. 2011. Seasonal changes in feeding ecology and activity patterns of two sympatric Mouse Lemur species, the Gray Mouse Lemur (Microcebus murinus) and the Golden-brown Mouse Lemur (M. ravelobensis), in northwestern Madagascar. International Journal of Primatology 32:566–586.


Meares, K., Dawson, D. A., Horsburgh, G. J., Glenn, T. C., Jones, K. L., Braun, M. J., Perrin, M. R., Taylor, T. D. 2009. Microsatellite loci characterized in three African crane species (Gruidae, Aves). Molecular Ecology Resources 9:308–311.


Meares, K., Dawson, D. A., Horsburgh, G. J., Perrin, M. R., Burke, T., Taylor T. D. 2008. Characterisation of 14 Blue crane Grus paradisea (Gruidae, AVES) microsatellite loci for use in detecting illegal trade. Conservation Genetics 9:1363–1367.