British Ornithologists’ Union Union medal


Peter Jones

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[ Photo by Oskar Brattström ]

Peter Jones has been involved with ornithology throughout his career. After gaining a BSc in Zoology at the University of Exeter, he moved to the Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology (EGI) at Oxford to work on the ecology of Great Tits Parus major under Chris Perrins’s supervision. Still based at the old Botanic Gardens building, the EGI was then peopled by ecology’s finest, such as David Lack and Reg Moreau who, with Chris and other luminaries, encouraged Peter’s enthusiasm for hypothesis testing in the field, the quality of which is belied by the mundane title of his PhD thesis (‘Some aspects of the feeding ecology of the Great Tit Parus major’). With Chris he demonstrated that clutch size was inherited and much more besides.

After Oxford, Peter’s long association with Africa began in 1969 when he took up a post as bird ecologist for the Ministry of Agriculture in Botswana. Based in Maun, he there began his long relationship with the Red-billed Quelea Quelea quelea. After three productive years in southern Africa, he moved to Nigeria to begin work with the late Peter Ward on behalf of the Centre for Overseas Pest Research (COPR) on a different subspecies of the same infamous pest. This period (1973–75) led to research of fundamental importance with significance beyond the understanding the biology of queleas. The two Peters showed how the taking on of extra protein was crucial to the timing of breeding and affected how many eggs could be laid. They then went on to show that queleas, as long-distance migrants, underwent pre-migratory fattening and that the amount of fat deposited differed between subspecies and reflected the different distances over which they migrated. Much of Peter’s encyclopaedic knowledge of queleas has been condensed into a series of chapters in the standard quelea texts (R. L. Bruggers & C. C. H. Elliott (eds) (1989) Quelea quelea– Africa’s Bird Pest, Oxford University Press, and P. J. Mundy & M. J. F. Jarvis (eds) (1989) Africa’s Feathered Locust, Baobab Books, Harare, Zimbabwe). These and many other important studies advanced knowledge of intra-African migrations in particular and led to Peter’s later interest in Afro-Palaearctic migrants that took him back to Nigeria and other African countries and still does.

By 1976, I had also joined COPR and one day he came back from an unsuccessful visit to Accra complaining that he and Gavin Pope had been assaulted at the University of Ghana by being hurled into a lake. In truth, they had only been victims of over-enthusiastic students indulging in their annual competition between members of different halls that has ‘ponding’ as part of the fun. Despite this, in 1979 Peter decided that a university life was preferable to staying at ‘the pest house’ and absconded to the University of Edinburgh to become a Senior Lecturer in Animal Ecology, where he remains an Honorary Fellow at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, but now lives in the far north in Sutherland. In between teaching duties at Edinburgh, Peter maintained links with Africa through visits to São Tomé and Príncipe, the Tropical Biology Association, the A. P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI) in Nigeria and working with me, Peter Mundy, Martin Dallimer and others on queleas. His knowledge of the birds’ migrations and ecology was essential to the devising of a model that successfully predicted where the birds can breed, given satellite-derived information on rainfall.

Away from Africa, Peter helped reverse the failing fortunes of the charismatic Kakapo Strigops habroptilus with a comprehensive review (with Christoph Imboden and Ian Atkinson) of the New Zealand Department of Conservation’s Kakapo Recovery Programme, a contribution of which he is especially proud. Also in the Pacific, he took part in the Sir Peter Scott Commemorative Expedition to the Pitcairn Islands to study the endemic birds of Henderson Island with Mike Brooke and others.

Peter’s contribution to the BOU has been immense and he is a very deserving recipient of the Union Medal given the above and his editorship of Ibis (1988–1993), his checklist written with Alan Tye on the Birds of São Tomé and Príncipe with Annobón (2006), his Vice-Presidency (1993–97) and involvement in organizing conferences. He is also a Vice-President of the British Trust for Ornithology and an associate editor of Bird Conservation International and has served as editor of Avian Science (2000–2003), on the British Ecological Society Grants Committee (2005–2007) and the Council of the European Ornithologists’ Union (2000–2005).