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With the death of Francisco Suárez Cardona –‘Quico’ to his many friends – on 11 October 2010 at Cobeña (Madrid, Spain), ornithology has lost an outstanding and internationally respected authority on the behaviour, ecology and conservation of the birds of steppes and other Iberian open landscapes, particularly those of the family Alaudidae. He co-authored the corresponding chapter in the Handbook of the Birds of the World (Vol. 9, Cotingas to Pipits and Wagtails, 2004), and was regarded as the leading authority on Dupont’s Lark Chersophilus duponti.

Quico was born in Madrid on 11 April 1953 and was a remarkable, multifaceted individual, both in his professional work and in his wider interests. Ornithology was his first calling and one that he followed enthusiastically from his teenage years up to his sudden and untimely death. He joined the Sociedad Española de Ornitología (SEO) in 1970 and travelled to England in 1972 to attend a BTO course on bird migration at Tring, Hertfordshire, where he collaborated with the Radipole Lake Ringing Group in studying autumn migration in Locustella and Acrocephalus warblers. He was by then an accomplished field ornithologist and soon began work on avian communities and, in particular, on what would become an intensive 10-year study of the biology of the Black-eared Oenanthe hispanica and Northern Oenanthe oenanthe Wheatears in the Iberian páramos.

Quico was schooled in ornithology at the Department of Vertebrate Biology of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, under Professor Francisco Bernis. He graduated in Biology in 1978 and was awarded a doctorate in 1988 for his thesis on the reproductive biology of the Black-eared Wheatear. During the intervening 10 years he also followed a distinguished career in environmental consulting, both for private companies and for several Government ministries. He was then engaged in environmental impact assessment, landscape planning, and the use of bioindicators for assessing water quality and ecosystem health. One outcome of all this activity was his production of the first methodological guide for environmental impact assessment of roads and railways to be published in Spain – and all this while still finding time to continue his field studies of wheatears.

He took up his post as lecturer and researcher in the Department of Ecology of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in 1989. Here he developed a highly regarded teaching curriculum, including basic ecology, ecology of natural resources, mathematical ecology, species conservation, environmental impact assessment and agro-ecosystems. Quico set up and led a research group which, using theoretical and applied approaches, dealt with a broad range of environmental topics related to the conservation problems caused by agricultural intensification and public works. Principal areas of his research included the relationships between farming and birds, the design and effectiveness of agri-environmental measures under the EU Common Agricultural Policy, the utility of mitigation measures to overcome the barrier effect on terrestrial animals of roads and railways and the methodologies for strategic environmental assessment. He was also involved in the study of plant ecology, including seed bank dynamics and the role of endozoochorous seed dispersal. His work is marked by some 150 scientific papers (more than 60 of them ranked by JCR, Journal Citation Reports), 12 books, and the supervision of eight doctoral theses, the outcome of 25 research projects that he directed. Universities in Spain sometimes display isolationist tendencies, but Quico was always able to maintain close communication with both public administration and the private sector. In this he is regarded as a pioneer in the wider dissemination and application of scientific knowledge developed in the academic world.

Quico took full advantage of his work opportunities at the University to return to his favourite topics: steppelands and their birds. Steppes and deserts held a magical fascination for him and he dedicated his best efforts to their study. Apart from numerous papers, he authored the monographs Las Estepas Ibéricas (The Iberian Steppes) (1992), Las Gangas Ibérica y Ortega en España: Población en 2005 y Método de Censo (The Black-bellied and Pin-tailed Sandgrouse in Spain: Population in 2005 and Census Method) (2006) and Las Alondras de España Peninsular (The Larks of Peninsular Spain) (2009). He also inspired and edited the books La Ganga Ibérica (Pterocles alchata) y la Ganga Ortega (P. orientalis) en España: Distribución, Abundancia, Biología y Conservación (The Black-bellied P. orientalis and Pin-tailed P. alchata Sandgrouse in Spain: Distribution, Abundance and Conservation) (1999) and La Alondra Ricotí (Chersophilus duponti) (The Dupont’s Lark (Chersophilus duponti)) (2010). He was most recently involved in fieldwork on the birds of the Spanish páramos, and the steppe birds of the Maghreb. However, his main legacy is the unquestionable contribution to the study and valuation of steppes and other Iberian open landscapes, as he managed to go beyond the simple study of their birds to highlight for the administration sector and the academic world the importance of the extensive management of agro-pastoral landscapes for the conservation of their threatened biocenosis, until then almost ignored.

He was as spirited as he was hard-working. His passions included classical music, literature, cabinet making and his orchard, and he was a noted expert on mushrooms and toadstools. Quico was enormously sociable, generous and playful, and a man who shared his many enthusiasms with his innumerable friends. He will be remembered with affection by them all, by his brothers and by his daughters Gabriela and Jimena.