College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Professor Colleen Downs.

SARChI Chair Appointed Honorary Fellow of the American Ornithological Society

Professor Colleen Downs, South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Ecosystem Health and Biodiversity in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, has been elected an Honorary Fellow of the American Ornithological Society (AOS).

The election makes Downs one of 100 eminent scientists selected to the roll of Honorary Fellows of the AOS, and recognises and celebrates her valued contributions to ornithology and commitment to science. She was nominated by current Fellows of the Society and the AOS Nominations Committee for Honorary Fellows.

Dean and Head of the School of Life Sciences, Professor Ademola Olaniran, extended his congratulations to Downs on her election, describing it as well deserved.

‘I am very honoured and humbled to have received this recognition,’ said Downs, who thanked those who nominated and supported her election.

Downs has been contributing to world-class research at UKZN since 1994, and is consistently rated the top-published female researcher at the University. She has gained international recognition for her work in biology, particularly in terrestrial vertebrate ecology where she has worked on animals from Hadedas to Nile Crocodiles. Downs has more than 300 international peer-reviewed publications to her name, has featured on popular media platforms and has supervised more than 100 postgraduate students.

Downs is a Fellow of the International Ornithologists’ Union, a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa, and received the 2017 highly acclaimed National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)-South32 Award for Research Capacity Development. She was awarded the Zoological Society of Southern Africa Gold Medal in 2017 for her outstanding achievements in Zoology in Southern Africa over a number of years. Downs is also BirdLife South Africa’s Honorary President.

Downs acknowledged her postgraduate students for their contributions to her extensive, interdisciplinary research portfolio, which has focused particularly on how changing land use affects biodiversity and ecosystem health and made important contributions to research initiatives like the Durban Research Action Partnership (D’RAP). She has investigated the urban ecology of various species and their persistence, with a focus on important conservation issues like anthropogenic environmental change and changing land use, as well as climate change.

Downs chairs the Cape Parrot Working Group and has contributed to the annual Cape Parrot Big Birding Day for 22 years. She is passionate about science education and encouraging citizen science, and values opportunities to rally support for the protection of the various species she works on.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Supplied