Hans Gadow Memorial Fellow &
Strickland Curator of Ornithology, University Museum of Zoology
Tel.: +44 (0)1223 336610
My conservation work is connected to my position as Curator of Birds in the University Museum of Zoology and ranges from the strictly practical to more theoretical research which nevertheless aims to provide information of direct use to conservation planning. This spectrum is reflected in the work of recent research students who have studied, inter alia, declining ring ousels in Britain, climate-induced shifts in the geogprahical ranges of North American birds, and what causes the apparent male adult sex ratio bias among threatened bird species.
ISLANDS. Through connections with the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, I am involved with ongoing programmes to remove troublesome alien species from oceanic islands, for example in the Pitcairn Islands of the tropical Pacific and the Cape Verdes off West Africa. A companion desk study, undertaken collaboratively with the RSPB, investigated how, at a global level, such eradication programmes might be prioritised in terms of their conservation worth to birds. There may be scope for expanding this work to integrate other taxa.
While the know-how for ridding islands of invasives is improving fast, the information on how rapidly species of conservation concern recover after an eradication is poor. Can we develop a better understanding of the circumstances in which that recovery is given a kick-start by immigration, as opposed to enhanced reproductive success?
Since 2002, I have led a small team monitoring the population dynamics of the Critically Endangered Raso Lark of the Cape Verdes, a species displaying a marked male sex ratio bias. The species has increased remarkably in numbers 2004-2011, from about 65 individuals to 1500. It now seems likely that the population can only decline which may offer enhanced opportunities for investigating selection on the morphology which shows an unusual degree of sexual size dimorphism.
SEABIRDS. Seabirds continue to throw up taxonomic problems. Slightly perversely, these may be due to the extreme philopatry of some species and the considerable post-Pleistocene range lability of others. Resolution of the taxonomic uncertainty will help ensure conservation resources are wisely targeted. One seabird of great interest, because of its extraordinary range expansion, is the Northern Fulmar. Our contemporary studies provided little support for the traditional 'out-of-Iceland' scenario for the expansion. We are currently exploring whether the picture painted by 100-year old museum specimens is similar.
BIRD PLUMAGE. While some aspects of bird plumage are clearly related to sexual selection, we lack any general predictive framework for bird coloration. I would therefore welcome any projects designed to investigate more ecological explanations of bird colours. One recent research student studied the widespread occurrence of black-brown sexual dimorphism among passerine birds.
Students who might wish to join our group are more than welcome to suggest their own projects. They might fall within one of the above headings, but that is certainly not a pre-requisite.
- Brooke, M. de L., Flower, T.P., Campbell, E.M., Mainwaring, M.C., Davies, S. & Welbergen, J.A. (2012). Rainfall-related population growth and sex ratio change in the Critically Endangered Raso lark Alauda razae. Anim. Conserv. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-1795.2012.00535.x
- Brooke, M. de L. (2010). Unexplained recurrent features of the plumage of birds. Ibis 152: 845-847.
- Brooke, M. de L., O'Connell, T.C., Wingate, D., Madeiros, J., Hilton, G.M., & Ratcliffe, N. (2010) The potential for rat predation to cause decline of the globally threatened Henderson petrel Pterodroma atrata: evidence from population modelling, the field and stable isotopes. Endangered Species Research 11: 47-59.
- Brooke, M. de L, Hilton, G. & Martins, T.L.F. (2007). Prioritising the world's islands for vertebrate eradication programmes. Anim. Conserv., 10: 380-390.
- Brooke, M. de L. (2004). The food consumption of the world’s seabirds. Biology Letters. 271(0): 246-248.
- Brooke, M. de L. (2004). Albatrosses and petrels across the world. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Burg, T.M., Almond, R., Lomax, J., Brooke, M. de L. and Amos, W. (2003). Unravelling dispersal patterns in an expanding population of a highly mobile seabird, the northern fulmar. Proc. Roy. Soc. B., 270: 979-984.
- Brooke, M. de L. (2001). Systematics and distribution of seabirds of the world: a review of current knowledge. Pp. 57-83 in 'The Biology of Marine Birds' (ed. E-A Schreiber and J. Berger). CRC Press, Boca Raton.
- Brooke, M. de L. (1998). Ecological factors influencing the occurrence of 'flash marks' in wading birds. Functional Ecology, 12: 339-346.