Emeritus Professor Les Underhill

ADU Director
Phone: 021 650 3227
Email: les [dot] underhill [at] uct [dot] ac [dot] za

Qualifications and experience

Les Underhill is Professor of Avian Demography. He was appointed to the Department of Statistical Sciences at the University of Cape Town in 1972 as a Lecturer, and received ad hominem promotion to Professor in 1992, after having been Senior Lecturer (1976-1982) and Associate Professor (1982-1992). He has spent research leave at the Universities of Adelaide, Australia (1975), Auckland, New Zealand (1975) and Sheffield, England (1979-1980), and in the Statistics Department of the Institute for Arable Crops Research, Rothamsted Experimental Station, Harpenden, England (1985 & 1989). He held a one year appointment as statistical consultant at the Schweizerische Vogelwarte (Swiss Ornithological Institute), Sempach, Switzerland, in 1992. He has been Director of the Avian Demography Unit (ADU) since 1991. The ADU was responsible for the Southern African Bird Atlas Project (and the resulting Atlas of Southern African Birds), the Southern African Frog Atlas Project (and the resulting Atlas and Red Data Book of the Frogs of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland), the selection and description of sites for BirdLife International's Important Bird Areas programme, published as The Important Bird Areas of Southern Africa, and the IUCN classification of the conservation status of the region's bird species, published as The Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland . The ADU is currently undertaking the Southern African Reptile Conservation Assessment, and a series of bird monitoring projects, such as the Coordinated Waterbird Counts (CWAC), the Birds In Reserves Project (BIRP), and Coordinated Avifaunal Roadcounts (CAR). The ADU is also responsible for the administration of SAFRING, the South African Bird Ringing Unit.

Les Underhill's degrees: B.Sc. (1968), B.Sc.(Hons) in Mathematics (1969), M.Sc. in Operations Research (1971) The address sort and other computer sorting techniques and Ph.D. in Mathematical Statistics (1973) Further distributions of multivariate quadratic forms are from UCT.

He is a fellow of the South African Statistical Association, a life member of the BirdLife South Africa and a founder-member of the Western Cape Wader Study Group. He serves on the Executive Committee of the International Wader Study Group, the special interest society for waders (Charadrii). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa. In 1998, he presented the plenary lecture representing the host country at the International Ornithological Congress in Durban, and was elected to the International Ornithological Committee.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust selected him for one of their "Top Ten Conservationist of the Year Awards" for 1999. As a member of the team of editors for The Atlas of Southern African Birds, he was awarded the John FW Herschell Medal of the Royal Society of South Africa in 2000. This gold medal is awarded for "outstanding contributions to science in southern Africa, especially of a multidisciplinary scientific nature." He was, along with René Navarro, also of the ADU, SANCOR's "Marine and Coastal Communicator of the Year" for 2001, in the scientific category. This award recognised their contribution to communicating the impact of the Treasure oil spill to the public, mainly via a website. In 2002, he was awarded the Gilchrist Medal by SANCOR, for outstanding contributions to the enhancement of marine science in South Africa.

He has written two first-year textbooks: Mathematics for B.Com. students and an introduction to Statistics.

Research interests

Les Underhill's statistical research interests lie in techniques such as scaling methods, biplots and correspondence analysis which produce low dimensional graphical displays for data matrices.

Currently, most of his research emphasis is placed at the interface between statistics and biology, in applications of statistics in the biological sciences, particularly ornithology and ecology. He has developed models for the relationship between fish stocks and sea temperature in the Benguela ecosystem, for the analysis of moult in birds, and for the dynamics of Southern Right Whale, African Penguin, Hartlaub's Gull and Curlew Sandpiper populations. The Underhill index is used extensively for trend monitoring waterbird populations in Europe. He works with Dr RW Summers (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Britain) on predator-prey relations between Arctic Foxes, lemmings and ground-nesting bird species the Taimyr Peninsula, Siberia, Russia. In 1991 he participated in the International Arctic Expedition to the northeastern Taimyr Peninsula at the invitation of the Russian Academy of Sciences and in 2002 he returned to the tundra to join a pilot expedition to the Piasina Delta under the banner Pristine Wilderness? Unravelling the Riddles of the Siberian High Arctic Tundra Ecosystem with Special Reference to Reserve Management, Local Awareness and Ecotourism. He collaborates extensively with Dr RJM Crawford, Marine and Coastal Management Branch of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, on a series of project involving southern African seabirds. He was a member of the Prince Edward Islands Millennium Expedition in December 2001, assisting with counts of seabirds on these islands in the Southern Ocean.

Publications, selected from 146

Avery G, Underhill LG 1986. Seasonal exploitation of seabirds by Late Holocene coastal foragers: analysis of modern and archaeological data from the western Cape. Journal of Archaeological Science 13: 339-360.

Underhill LG 1987. Changes in the age structure of Curlew Sandpiper populations at Langebaan Lagoon, South Africa, in relation to lemming cycles in Siberia. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa 46: 209-214.

Summers RW, Underhill LG 1987. Factors related to breeding production of Brent Geese Branta b. bernicla and waders (Charadrii) on the Taimyr Peninsula. Bird Study 34: 161-171

Summers RW, Underhill LG, Clinning CF, Nicoll M 1989. Populations, biometrics and moult of the Turnstone Arenaria interpres, with special reference to the Siberian population. Ardea 77: 145-168.

Hoffmann JH, Moran VC, Underhill LG 1990. Relationships between the history of colonization and abundance of Trichapion lativentre (Coleoptera: Apionidae) in the suppression of growth and reproduction of a weed, Sesbania punicea (Fabaceae). Environmental Entomology 19: 1866-1872.

Underhill LG 1990. The coefficient of variation biplot. Journal of Classification 7: 241-256

Summers RW, Underhill LG 1991. The relationship between body size and time of breeding in Icelandic Redshanks Tringa totanus. Ibis 133: 134-139.

Underhill LG, Prys-Jones RP, Syroechkovski EE jr, Groen NM, Karpov V, Lappo HG, van Roomen MWJ, Rybkin A, Schekkerman H, Spiekman H, Summers RW 1993. Breeding of waders (Charadrii) and Brent Geese Branta bernicla bernicla at Pronchishcheva Lake, northeastern Taimyr, Russia, in a peak and a decreasing lemming year. Ibis 135: 277-292.

Prys-Jones RP, Underhill LG, Waters RJ 1994. Index numbers for waterbird populations. II. Coastal wintering waders in the United Kingdom, 1970/71-1990/91. Journal of Applied Ecology 31: 481-492.

Summers RW, Underhill LG, Syroechkovski EE jr, Lappo EG, Prys-Jones RP, Karpov V 1994. The breeding biology of Dark-bellied Brent Geese Branta b. bernicla and King Eiders Somateria spectabilis on the northeastern Taimyr Peninsula, especially in proximity to Snowy Owl Nyctea scandiaca nests. Wildfowl 45: 110-118.

Underhill LG 1994. Optimal and suboptimal reserve selection algorithms. Biological Conservation 70: 85-87.

Underhill LG, Prys-Jones RP 1994. Index numbers for waterbird populations. I. Review and methodology. Journal of Applied Ecology 31: 463-480.

Bruderer, B., Underhill LG, Liechti F 1995. Altitude choice by night migrants in a desert area predicted by meteorological factors. Ibis 137: 44-55.

Summers RW, Underhill LG, Prys-Jones RP 1995. Does delayed return migration of young waders to their breeding grounds indicate the risk of migration? Ardea 83: 351-357.

Summers RW, Underhill LG, Howells RJ, Vickery J, Prys-Jones RP 1996. Phenology of migration and use of wintering sites by an expanding population of Dark-bellied Brent Geese. Journal of Zoology, London 239: 197-208.

Villacastin-Herrero CA, Underhill LG, Crawford RJM, Shannon LV 1996. Sea surface temperature of oceans surrounding subequatorial Africa – seasonal patterns, spatial coherence and longterm trend. South African Journal of Science 92: 189-196.

Harrison JA, Allan DG, Underhill LG, Herremans, M, Tree AJ, Parker V, Brown CJ (eds) 1997. The atlas of southern African birds. Vol. 1: Non-passerines. Vol. 2: Passerines. Johannesburg: BirdLife South Africa.

Schekkerman H, van Roomen MWJ, Underhill LG 1998. Growth, behaviour of broods, and breeding productivity of Curlew Sandpipers Calidris ferruginea. Ardea 86: 153-168.

Summers RW, Underhill LG, Syroechkovski EE jr. 1998. The breeding productivity of Dark-bellied Brent Geese and Curlew Sandpipers in relation to changes in the numbers of Arctic Foxes and lemmings on the Taimyr Peninsula, Siberia. Ecography 21: 573-580.

Underhill LG 1999. Avian demography: statistics and ornithology. Ostrich 70: 61-70.

Underhill LG, Bartlett PA, Baumann L, Crawford RJM, Dyer BM, Gildenhuys A, Nel DC, Oatley TB, Thornton M, Upfold L, Williams AJ, Whittington PA, Wolfaardt AC 1999. Mortality and survival of African Penguins Spheniscus demersus involved in the Apollo Sea oil spill: an evaluation of rehabilitation efforts. Ibis 141: 29-37.

Underhill LG, Crawford RJM 1999. Period of moult of African Penguins at Robben Island, South Africa, and its variation, 1988-1998. South African Journal of Marine Science 21: 437-441.

Balachandran S, Hussain SA, Underhill LG 2000. Primary moult, biometrics and mass of Grey Plovers Pluvialis squatarola in southeast India. Bird Study 47: 82-90.

Crawford RJM, Davis SA, Harding R, Jackson LF, Leshoro TM, Meyer MA, Randall RM, Underhill LG, Upfold L, van Dalsen AP, van der Merwe E, Whittington PA, Williams AJ, Wolfaardt AC 2000. Initial impact of the Treasure oil spill on seabirds off western South Africa. South African Journal of Marine Science 22: 157-176.

Erni B, Liechti F, Underhill LG, Bruderer B 2002. Wind and rain govern the intensity of nocturnal migration in central Europe - a log-linear regression analysis. Ardea 90: 155-166.

Crawford RJM, Underhill LG 2003. Aspects of breeding, population trend, measurements and moult of Hartlaub's Gull (Larus hartlaubii) in Western Cape, South Africa. Waterbirds 26: 139-149.

Crawford RJM, Underhill LG, Bester MN, Cooper J, Greyling MD, Meyer MA, Petersen SL, Ryan PG, Wilkinson W 2003. The Prince Edward Islands Millennium Expedition. South African Journal of Science 99: 407-409.

Rodrigues ASL, Akçakaya HR, Andelman SJ, Bakarr MI, Boitani L, Brooks TM, Chanson JS, Fishpool LDC, da Fonseca GAB, Gaston KJ, Hoffmann M, Marquet PA, Pilgrim JD, Pressey RL, Schipper J, Sechrest W, Simon SN, Underhill LG, Waller RW, Watts MEJ, Yan X 2004. Global gap analysis: priority regions for expanding the global protected-area network. BioScience 54: 1092-1100.

Rodrigues ASL, Andelman SJ, Bakarr MI, Boitani L, Brooks TM, Cowling RM, Fishpool LDC, da Fonseca GAB, Gaston KJ, Hoffmann M, Long JS, Marquet PA, Pilgrim JD, Pressey RL, Schipper J, Sechrest W, Simon SN, Underhill LG, Waller RW, Watts MEJ, Yan X 2004. Effectiveness of the global protected areas network in representing species diversity. Nature 428: 640-643.

Williams AJ, Ward VL, Underhill LG 2004. Waders respond quickly and positively to the banning of off-road vehicles from beaches in South Africa. Wader Study Group Bulletin 104: 79-81.

Parsons NJ, Underhill LG 2005. Oiled and injured African Penguins Spheniscus demersus and other seabirds admitted for rehabilitation in the Western Cape, South Africa, 2001 and 2002. African Journal of Marine Science 27: 289-296.

Stuart SN, Archibald GW, Ball J, Berry RJ, Emmerich SD, Evans DM, Flenley JR, Gaston KJ, Given DR, Gosler AG, Harris P, Houghton J, Lindquist ED, Mahan DC, Morecroft MD, Moyer DC, Murdiyarso D, Musiti BWW, Nicolson C, Oteng-Yeboah A, Plumptre AJ, Prance G, Ramachandra V, Sale JB, Sheldon JK, Simiyu S, Storey R, Underhill LG, Vickery J, Whitten T 2005. Conservation theology for conservation biologists - a reply to David Orr. Conservation Biology 19: 1689-1692.

Underhill LG, Crawford RJM 2005. Seabirds as indicators of the health of the Benguela ecosystem. ICES Journal of Marine Science 62: 360-365.