Emeritus Professor Les Underhill is a Senior Scholar at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the director of the Animal Demography Unit (ADU) in the Department of Zoology. He was the twelfth recipient of the Fellowship and the fifth from UCT.
Underhill holds a PhD in Mathematical Statistics from UCT (1973) but drifted from these roots into a new discipline of Statistical Ecology to “put statistics into biology and biology into statistics” and used the Award to advance his work developing a toolkit for monitoring biodiversity in South Africa. Many of the proposed tools are based on concepts that have emerged out of projects and research he has managed and the measures taken can be used to index biodiversity on an annual basis. For example, with the input of citizen scientists the bird atlas project (a collaboration between the ADU, SANBI and BirdLife South Africa) will be turned into annual maps of bird distribution to alerted biologists to problems as they arise. Africa’s grandest mammal-research mission yet, dubbed MammalMAP, will lead to a first-ever atlas of all mammal species living on the continent today to improve the conservation of all African mammals in a completely unbiased way.