Invitation to a public lecture on The costs of keeping cool: climate change and the future for desert birds

The Royal Society of South Africa and the Academy of Science of South Africa invite you to a free public lecture by Dr Susan Cunningham, FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, entitled The costs of keeping cool: climate change and the future for desert birds


As graphically illustrated by Australia’s tragic bushfire crisis and our own recent drought, climate change poses an existential threat to the world as we know it. Global heating causes increases in both average atmospheric temperatures and the probability of the extreme weather events that lead to crises like these. Arid regions are especially vulnerable and many species of birds and animals in deserts already live near the limits of their physiological tolerances. Because of this, desert animal communities are important indicators of the potential effects of climate change on wildlife generally. The FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town, in collaboration with the University of Pretoria, spearheads the “Hot Birds Research Project”; an international collaboration of biologists seeking to understand the impacts of climate change – particularly temperature rise – on desert bird communities. Our aim is to understand precisely how birds are affected by high temperatures, in order to better predict how bird communities will change and what we might be able to do about it. Specifically, we work to understand how changes in temperature are linked to behavioural and physiological responses in birds that have implications for individual survival, breeding success, and population persistence. In this talk I will present an overview of the findings of the Hot Birds Research Project, including cutting edge results from our Kalahari research team. 

About the speaker

Susie is a lecturer at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town. She has been involved in the Hot Birds Research Project since 2010, initially as a post-doc and later as Principal Investigator for the behavioural ecology side of the programme. She works closely with Prof. Andrew McKechnie at the University of Pretoria on projects integrating behavioural and physiological approaches to understand the thermal biology of birds in arid zones and in cities.  

Susie is a New Zealander and completed her undergraduate degrees in Ecology & Biodiversity and Classical Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, and her PhD on tactile sensory systems in birds at Massey University in the Manawatu (North Island, New Zealand). She moved to South Africa in 2010 and spent her first field season in the Kalahari over the summer of 2010/11. The focus for Susie and her students is the relationship between thermal biology and behavioural ecology, in particular the fitness consequences of behavioural thermoregulation.   

Date:     Wednesday 19 February 2020

Time:    17h00 (Tea will be served from 16h30)

Place:    South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) Auditorium, Observatory Road, Observatory*

*Directions to SAAO Auditorium: From the N2, turn off to the M57 – Liesbeek Parkway; turning in the direction of Cape Town and continue until the traffic lights with Hartleyvale (hockey and football) on your left. Turn right at traffic lights into Observatory Road, pass the River Club; the S A Astronomical Observatory is next on the left. Once through the security gates bear left following the SALT signs to the auditorium i.e. last building on the left (white with stoep & ramp).