Ph.D. Students

 
 
 
 

Michelle Thompson

Michelle Thompson, hot birds

I have always been interested in nature with a special interest in birds, this made choosing to study zoology particularly easy. After matriculating in 2007 I studied a Zoology and Entomology undergraduate degree, immediately followed by an Honours degree at the University of Pretoria. I continued with a Master’s degree at the University of Pretoria looking at the effect of solar radiation on the rewarming rates and thermogenic capacity of Eastern rock elephant shrews (Elephantulus myurus) kept under semi-natural conditions. In 2014, I was then offered a Ph.D. which would focus on validating a behavioural index to assess species vulnerability to increasing temperatures as a result of climate change. The project would focus on arid-zone bird communities and as it combined two of my passions; birding and ecophysiology, I could not refuse.

Contact


Michelle Leigh Thompson
Department of Zoology and Entomology
University of Pretoria
Pretoria, 0002
South Africa

Email: ml.thompson89@gmail.com

Research interests

As primarily a physiologist, my interests focus mainly on the ecological physiology of birds and other vertebrates. This includes physiological consequences of heterothermy use in small mammals as well as physiological and behavioural responses to heat and water stress in birds.

Celiwe Ngcamphalala

Celiwe Ngcamphala, hot birds

I have always loved BIOLOGY, it is just so logical. So I enrolled for a BSc in Biological Sciences and Chemistry (because I needed a second Major) at the University of Swaziland. I did not know what field of Biology interested me, until my Honours year at Rhodes University where the good Prof A. Craig had us research brood parasitism (among other cool things that birds get up to) for our Avian Biology class that I realised how cool birds are. For one they fly, I mean I have done ALL my academic research projects on flying animals (bats and birds) and then they have these interesting ‘personalities’ and individual behaviours that I am quite curious about. So here I am, doing my Ph.D. on avian stress responses and spending my days handling and looking at birds up close.

Contact


Celiwe Ngcamphalala

Department of Zoology and Entomology

University of Pretoria

Pretoria, 0002

South Africa


Email: ngcamphalalaac@gmail.com 

Research interests

My research interests are on how we can use the physiology and behaviour of wildlife (with particular interest in birds and bats) to improve the human-wildlife conflict i.e. how to obtain wildlife benefits such as pest control management, research organism etc. while limiting negative impacts on animals.

Publications

Click on a reference to directly access a pdf copy of the article...

Jepsen, E.M., Ganswindt, A., Ngcamphalala, C.A., Bourne, A.R., Ridley, A.R. and McKechnie, AE. (2019). Non-invasive monitoring of physiological stress in an Afrotropical arid-zone passerine bird, the southern pied babbler. General and Comparative Endocrinology doi: 10.1016/j.ygcen.2019.03.002

 

 

Nicholas Pattinson

Nicholas Pattinson, hot birds

Contact

 

Nicholas B. Pattinson
FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology
DST-NRF
Centre of Excellence
University of Cape Town
Rondebosch, 7701
South Africa​

 

Email: nickpaddie@gmail.com

I come from a farm outside Harrismith in the Free State, and went to school in Kwa-Zulu Natal. I spent most of my time fly-fishing and birding, and decided to turn my passions into a career, heading to the University of Pretoria to study a B.Sc. Zoology. My research career kicked off when I was able to secure an amazing opportunity to acquire my zoology honours under the supervision of Prof. Andrew McKechnie and Dr Susan Cunningham, which saw me conduct field work in both the Kalahari Desert in South Africa and the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, USA. After graduating I moved to Port Elizabeth, to take on a zoology masters supervised by Dr Ben Smit. For my masters I looked at the physiology and behaviour of the rufous-eared warbler (Malcorus pectoralis) in the Karoo semi-desert. After completing that I took a year off, before starting a Ph.D. with the Hot Birds team, under the primary supervision of Dr. Susie Cunningham and co-supervision of Prof. Andrew McKechnie. My works look at the thermal physiology and behaviour of the yellow-billed hornbill (Tockus leucomelas) during its reproductive season. This builds on a large amount of amazing work done by Tanja van de Ven during her Ph.D., and will hopefully contribute towards a better understanding of the potential impacts of climate change on summer breeding birds in arid environments.

Research interests

In broad terms, I am interested in the natural environment, and conservation. Specifically, my interests lie in thermal ecology – how organisms deal with variable thermal environments – and how the relationship between organisms and their environments will change under climate change. Because of a lifelong passion for birds, I have specialised in the thermal ecology of birds.​

Benjamin Murphy

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Contact

 

Benjamin Murphy
FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology
DST-NRF
Centre of Excellence
University of Cape Town
Rondebosch, 7701
South Africa​

 

Email: benjaminmurphy2406@gmail.com

I’m from Frankfurt, Germany but have spent considerable time in the United Kingdom and France. As a school student I committed to an assistant zoo-keeper role where I quickly realised that I really enjoyed the idea of research. Following this thread I completed my undergraduate degree and honours research project, at the University of Edinburgh, evaluating whether different rodent malaria genotypes had differing infection dynamics in hosts and vectors. While undoubtedly interesting, I yearned for more field-based research involving analysis of behavioural strategies. Working towards this goal, I undertook a Masters in Conservation and Biodiversity at the University of Exeter (with Professor Andy Russell and Dr. Alexis Chaine) where I re-discovered my passion for behavioural ecology. A field course in Kenya opened my eyes to the world of ornithology and I haven’t looked back since.


As a result my Master’s project, based in the Pyrenées, France, studied parental investment decisions in blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) by analysing whether blue tits adaptively modify behavioural provisioning strategies due to presence of specific predators and whether ecological stresses at higher altitudes further influence these strategies. 

After the Master’s, I undertook three months of volunteering with Principal investigator Dr Alexis Chaine and postdoc Dr Maxime Cauchoix at the CNRS (in Moulis, France). In parallel, I worked in the research station’s aviary collaborating with PhD student Ethan Hermer (University of Ottawa) in conducting experiments concerning population differences in spatial learning and proactive interference in great tits (Parus major). Following this, I was employed at the CNRS as a Field-site-leader by Dr. Chaine for the entirety of the 2018 breeding season (February – July) which focused on parental plasticity of great and blue tits breeding across an altitudinal gradient.

Research interests

Having finished my sabbatical I look forward to starting my PhD, under the supervision of Dr. Susan Cunningham and Dr. Tom Flower and within the Hot Birds team. I will be evaluating how parental Fork-tailed drongos (Dicrurus adsimilis) mitigate the costs of breeding at hot temperatures in the arid Kalahari. With this project, we wish to investigate in further detail foraging, parental care and nest outcomes by drongos in the face of challenging thermal conditions. This will enable us to better understand how drongos, and birds more generally, might maintain constant fledging mass despite high air temperatures, whether there are compensatory behaviours by parents (e.g. changes in shading behaviour at the nest or timing of foraging and provisioning into pre-dawn and post-dusk hours) and if these carry their own costs for parental or offspring fitness, or overall nest success.


Working with Fork-tailed drongos, well-known for their kleptoparasitism of meerkats, will develop our understanding of potential impacts of increasing temperatures within arid-environments.

Shannon Conradie

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Contact

Shannon Conradie

Department of Zoology and Entomology
University of Pretoria
Pretoria, 0002
South Africa

Email: shannonconradie@gmail.com 

I have always enjoyed the outdoors and all aspects of the natural environment. During my schools years my love for biology really began to develop and as a result I enrolled for a B.Sc. Zoology degree at the University of Pretoria. My interest in research was sparked during this time which led me to apply for an honours programme examining the effects of animal-facilitated nutrient transfer across an aquatic-terrestrial interface. Thereafter I undertook a masters degree in the Hot Birds Research group under the supervision of Prof. Andrew McKechnie and Prof. Stephan Woodborne. This project focused on modelling bird responses to past, present and future climates. This included examining both acute and chronic heat exposure of birds in the Kalahari Desert. Currently I am enrolled in a Ph.D. programme continuing under the supervision of Prof. McKechnie and two additional supervisors, Dr. Susan Cunningham and Prof. Blair Wolf. The aim of my Ph.D is to develop a novel, integrative modelling approach linking the thermal landscape, heat and water fluxes and behavioural decisions and trade-offs for desert bird species. Ultimately I intend to construct detailed models of survival and reproduction in bird species, which reduces the need for detailed species-specific empirical datasets.  

Research interests

My primary research interest concerns the role of climate change on species distributions. More specifically I am interested in how endotherms physiological performances are influenced by changes in climatic conditions. Further my interests extend to integrating eco-physiology and behavioural ecology with mechanistic, dynamic modelling techniques. 

Publications

Click on a reference to directly access a pdf copy...

Conradie, S.R., Hall, G., Somers, M.J. and McIntyre, T. (2019). Limited animal-facilitated nutrient transfer across an aquatic-terrestrial interface in a southern African savanna. African Journal of Wildlife Research 49.

Conradie, S.R., Woodborne, S.M., Cunningham, S.J. and McKechnie, A.E. (2019). Chronic, sublethal effects of high temperatures will cause severe declines in southern African arid-zone birds during the 21st century. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116: 14065-14070.

 

 

Ryno Kemp

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Contact

 

Ryno Kemp

Department of Zoology and Entomology
University of Pretoria
Pretoria, 0002
South Africa

 

Email: kemp.ryno@yahoo.com

Birds are fascinating creatures and got my attention at a very young age, at first only as a hobby until I got an opportunity to study at the University of Pretoria. I graduated with a B.Sc. in Zoology, followed with an Honours in Zoology during 2016, where I looked at the thermoregulation in free-ranging ground woodpeckers (Geocolaptes olivaceus) in the Drakensberg Mountains. At the begin of this year, I got the opportunity to start an exciting Masters project under the supervision of Prof Andrew McKechnie, examining the impacts of climate change on the threatened arid-zone Red lark (Calendulauda burra) using a mechanistic model approach. I recently got accepted to upgraded my MSc to a PhD project.

Research interests

My research interests are in the ecology and evolution of heterothermy and more recently using a physiological approach to predict climate change impacts on arid-zone birds, using the Red lark as a model species.

Marc Freeman

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Contact

 

Marc Freeman

Department of Zoology and Entomology
University of Pretoria
Pretoria, 0002
South Africa

 

Email: marcfreeman78@gmail.com

The natural world and all its wonders have always been of great interest to me. Birds in particular intrigued me from a young age. Some of my earliest memories involve me paging through bird guides attempting to memorise and learn what makes each species unique. This fascination evolved and grew over time and I am now privileged to be in a position where my passion for birds is merged with my professional ambitions. We have an incredible biosphere. I believe that improving our understanding of how avian communities contribute to the processes shaping and driving this biosphere we will be in a better position to conserve it.

Research interests

The composition of natural ecosystems and the processes which maintain these systems form a central interest of mine. For this reason, I pursued a degree in Zoology with a special interest in Ornithology and Ecology. My Honours and Masters degrees focused on avian landscape ecology, specifically assessing how anthropogenic landscape transformation affected forest bird assemblages. Avian population dynamics and their responses to disturbances in complex natural systems such as forest, woodlands, deserts etc. fascinate me. However, overtime it became apparent that in order to understand the functioning of natural systems, multi-disciplinary approaches are fundamentally important. By pursuing a PhD in physiological responses and adaptions to changes in climatic conditions across landscapes I am attempting to develop a platform from which I can make improved and strengthened inferences pertaining to how bird assemblages will be shaped by the inevitable changes within the landscapes and habitats in which they reside.

Publications

 

Czenze, Z.J., Kemp, R., van Jaarsveld, B., Freeman, M.T., Smit, B., Wolf, B.O. and McKechnie, A.E. In press. Regularly drinking desert birds have greater evaporative cooling capacity and higher heat tolerance limits than non-drinking species. Functional Ecology.

Freeman, M.T., Olivier, P.I. and van Aarde, R.J. (2018) Matrix transformation alters species-area relationships in fragmented coastal forests. Landscape Ecology 33: 307-322.