Joint meeting with the British Ornithologists’ Club and the Natural History Museum

Saturday 26 Oct 2019

Flett Theatre, Natural History Museum, South Kensington, London

(Entrance free to members and non-members alike)


(Lecture times are approximate)

10.00            Doors open.  Coffee and tea available along with a chance to socialise.

10.30            Opening of meeting by BOC Chairman Chris Storey, followed by introduction of speakers by BOC secretary, Robert Prŷs-Jones.

10.45            Avoiding extinctions in the most threatened area in the Neotropics: the Pernambuco Centre of Endemism, Brazil – Luís Fábio Silveira

11.30            Conservation of dry forest endemic birds in northwest Peru – Christian Devenish

12.10            Using science to protect Ecuador’s most threatened birds – Martin Schaefer

12.50            Lunch break (food is available in the museum restaurant nearby)

14.00            Diversity in avian mimicry – Alexander Lees

14.40            The physiology/behaviour nexus in a Central American cloud forest songbird, the Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush Catharus mexicanus – Samuel Jones

15.20            Coffee/Tea break

15.50            Frontiers of knowledge: a quarter-century of Neotropical discovery – Joseph Tobias

16.30            Close of meeting and summing up by NBC Chairman David Fisher


Luis Fabio Silveira (University of São Paulo, Brazil)

Avoiding extinctions in the most threatened area in the Neotropics: the Pernambuco Centre of Endemism, Brazil

Abstract: The Brazilian Atlantic Forest is a hotspot with very high biodiversity but also a high level of deforestation and degradation. The Pernambuco Centre of Endemism (PCE), originally distributed in northern São Francisco River in the states of Paraíba, Alagoas, and Pernambuco, is today the most endangered Atlantic Forest region and one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world, as only small and isolated habitat fragments remain (~3% of its original distribution). Moreover, this is also the least studied Atlantic Forest region. Whereas in recent years four bird species there have been recognized as extinct, new bird and mammal species are still being described. Our lack of knowledge concerns not only the composition of the biodiversity, but also ”where” and ”why” it is concentrated. We are therefore not only researching the taxonomy and systematics of birds and mammals from the PCE, much of which is at risk of being lost before scientific recordings can be made, but also using this knowledge to propose and apply conservation management practices and to implement a program to communicate our research results and the importance of the PCE to the general public.

Biography: Luís Fábio Silveira is curator of the Bird Collection of the Zoology Museum of the University of São Paulo (MZUSP), Scientific Director of the MZUSP, collaborating professor in the Department of Zoology of the University of São Paulo and President of the Council of the São Paulo Zoo. He is also a member of the Brazilian Ornithological Records Committee (CBRO), Associate Researcher at the World Pheasant Association (UK) and a member of the Galliformes Specialists Group, IUCN. He has published 17 books, and over 250 book chapters and scientific papers, supervised nearly 40 MScs, PhDs and Postdocs, and currently coordinates ten research projects supported by Brazilian Research Council (CNPq) and São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP). He works mainly on the systematics, taxonomy and conservation of Neotropical birds, but also with the captive breeding and reintroduction of the Alagoas Curassow (Pauxi mitu, extinct in the wild), Brazilian Merganser (Mergus octosetaceus, Critically Endangered), Great-billed Seed Finch (Sporophila maximiliani, Endangered) and Golden Parakeet (Guaruba guarouba, Vulnerable).

Christian Devenish (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Conservation of dry forest endemic birds in northwest Peru

Abstract: Conservation ecologists face the dual challenge of working with difficult-to-study species and providing ecological metrics that support both global conservation efforts and local conservation management prescriptions. I will present metrics identifying distributions, site-level and global abundance, site-contextualised habitat requirements, and threat analyses for dry forest endemic birds in the globally important Tumbes region of Peru. Results from field studies show extreme variation in abundance within species across the study area, although species’ broad distributions were generally congruent. I recommend key sites for the conservation of threatened Tumbes endemics, including extensions of existing protected areas and unprotected sites, especially in the south of their ranges. Threats and opportunities are discussed within the local economic context, especially export agriculture and farming communities.

Biography: Christian Devenish is a post doctorate researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University working in spatial ecology. His research has strong applications to conservation, such as red listing and priority area identification, especially with globally threatened species. Previously, he has worked for conservation NGOs, including BirdLife International, where he was lead editor of the Americas IBA directory. He has worked extensively in the Neotropics, including in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. He has recently begun a project in Java, Indonesia, using audio recorders and automated identification techniques to measure occupancy of species of conservation interest.

Martin Schaefer (Fundación Jocotoco)

Using science to protect Ecuador’s most threatened birds

Abstract: Private reserves are effective in protecting threatened biodiversity. Yet, private owners rarely use science to direct their conservation activities. Here, I present thirteen years of ecological work on the endangered El Oro Parakeet and the endangered Pale-headed Brushfinch in Ecuador. Through targeted conservation actions, Fundación Jocotoco quadrupled the population of the Pale-headed Brushfinch within nine years. Our work elucidated the truly cooperative breeding system of the El Oro Parakeet shown also by other Pyrrhura species. The cooperative breeding is characterized by delayed breeding. The effective population size is low, only 42% of adults reproduce. Moreover, the distributional range of this species shifted a dramatic 300 altitudinal meters within only 30 years. Genetic data showed that even forested valleys can become dispersal barriers. These data allow us to adjust reserve design in order to protect this endangered species and many other endemics in Ecuador.

Biography: Martin turned down the chair of evolutionary ecology at the Technical University of Munich to work on the conservation of biodiversity. Apart from working on threatened birds in Ecuador, he worked on the spatial organization of Aquatic Warbler and on visual communication. In 2016, Martin became CEO of Fundación Jocotoco, whose mission is to avoid the extinction of birds in Ecuador. Since then, Fundación Jocotoco bought 14,820 acres and is currently protecting >53,000 acres in western Ecuador, the Andes and Galápagos.

Alexander Lees (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Diversity in avian mimicry

Abstract: Apparent cases of visual mimicry – where the plumage of one species converges on that of another unrelated species, are surprisingly common in birds and especially prevalent in the Neotropical region. Here I will give an overview of the different forms of mimicry, such as Müllerian, aggressive and Batesian mimicry, which are suspected to occur in birds and highlight the cutting-edge science being used to uncover these patterns.

Biography: Alex is a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University who has been working on Amazonian conservation issues for over 16 years and is one of the co-investigators of the Sustainable Amazon Network which attempts to understand the trade-offs between biodiversity value, ecosystem services and economic development along tropical agricultural frontiers. Beyond intensive field-work supported studies aiming to understand land-use change, and the drivers of past, current and future biodiversity loss he is also involved in leading on several large-scale syntheses and meta-analyses addressing macro-ecological and phylogenetic work at large scales to understand the context and interplay of ecological and evolutionary factors.

Samuel Jones (Royal Holloway London)

The physiology/behaviour nexus in a Central American cloud forest songbird, the Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush Catharus mexicanus

Abstract: Very little is known about how energy usage relates with season and behaviour in tropical species. Tropical birds are known, however, to have lower metabolisms than temperate species, suggested to be a product of ‘slower’ lifestyles (such as smaller clutch sizes and greater adult survival). Using a variety of behavioural and physiological techniques, I explore seasonal shifts in territorial behaviour and physiology in Black-headed Nightingale-Thrushes Catharus mexicanus, a Central American cloud forest endemic. This study offers an intriguing insight into the energy costs of long periods (often 5-6 months) of intense territorial defence, and how energy usage may shift with season in other tropical forest songbirds.

Biography: Sam has recently completed his PhD at Royal Holloway University of London and the Institute of Zoology at London Zoo. His research focuses on the physiology, behaviour and elevational ranges of cloud-forest songbirds. Sam’s PhD research was all undertaken in the Merendon mountains in Honduras, a site he has also been coordinating an ornithological monitoring programme at for the past 7 years. Outside of Honduras, Sam has worked on an array of tropical fieldwork, with particular interests in East Africa.

Joseph Tobias (Imperial College London)

Frontiers of knowledge: a quarter-century of Neotropical discovery

Abstract: The launch of the Neotropical Bird Club coincided with a period of intense ornithological exploration by field ornithologists, birders and sound recordists. Unsurprisingly, the 25-year period since then has seen some dramatic discoveries from new species to staggering range extensions and unexpected taxonomic changes. This talk will showcase the most spectacular of these discoveries from around the Neotropical region and make some predictions about what we might expect from the next quarter century.

Biography: Joe Tobias studied the behaviour of the European Robin for his PhD at Cambridge University, then worked for 10 years in environmental NGOs including BirdLife International, focusing on bird research and conservation projects in South-east Asia, Madagascar, and the Neotropics. Returning to academia, he worked as a Lecturer at Oxford University before joining Imperial College London, where he is developing a programme of research and teaching in avian ecology and conservation.