Life Sciences Professor Elected Fellow of the International Ornithologists’ Union
Professor Colleen Down of the School of Life Sciences at UKZN has been elected a Fellow of the International Ornithologists’ Union (IOU).
She was nominated and recommended for the honour by the Executive Committee of the IOU in recognition of her excellent scientific work and her involvement in promoting ornithology.
Downs, who joined the University in 1994 and was initially part of the Science Foundation Programme, lectures to undergraduates and Honours students in Biological Sciences on the Pietermaritzburg campus.
Her primary research interests are in the field of terrestrial vertebrates, initially in mammals, however her birding hobby gradually found its way into her research, leading to an increasing research focus on avian vertebrates.
Downs’ passion for this area of research is reflected in the work of the postgraduates she has supervised with half having completed research focused on birdlife. Currently most of her students are researching aspects of the effects of changing land use on biodiversity. This kind of research is broad, says Downs, and allows for an interdisciplinary scope.
She is also the Top-Published female Researcher in the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science, thanks in part to the extensive work she does in the birding sector.
Downs’ term as a Fellow of the IOU is indefinite, and will complement her other work on conservation and public awareness around birding. Her work is in line with IOU’s aims of supporting, promoting and advancing avian biology by disseminating Ornithological knowledge, interacting with other scientific organisations, stimulating and strengthening locally-based research, cultivating mutually supportive collaborative relationships among ornithologists internationally and fostering knowledge transfer between basic research and applied sciences.
Being elected as one of the 300 Fellows of the IOU brings the focus on avian research at UKZN to the fore. Despite the excellence of its work with birds, the Institution isn’t often recognised for its bird research.
Downs credits the hard work on projects by postgraduates and colleagues in the School as a contributing factor towards recognition of the School’s work.
For Downs, working with birds has gone beyond just the realm of academics. Her postgraduate research, is published regularly and she does presentations at a wide range of public forums.
Downs and her students are also involved in bird ringing and as the Chair of the Cape Parrot Working Group she is well-known for her 17 years of contributions to the Cape Parrot Big Birding Day.
Dean and Head of School, Professor Sam Mukaratirwa, congratulated Downs on her nomination and election, highlighting the excellence of her work in ornithology.