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Ecology and Conservation

Professor Richard Phillips

Professor Richard Phillips

Honorary Professor




I am the leader of the Higher Predators and Conservation group within the Ecosystems team at British Antarctic Survey, and an Honorary Professor in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences. My research interests are in the ecology and conservation of seabirds, particularly albatrosses and petrels, and in food webs in temperate and polar ecosystems. I am also involved with the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) as convenor of the ACAP Populations and Conservation Status working group, and am a member of the Expert Group on Birds and Marine Mammals of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR). These international agreements develop strategies to promote research on seabirds and other marine taxa, particularly where this is of relevance to understanding and managing marine and terrestrial threats.

Broad research specialisms:

Population dynamics, physiology, evolutionary ecology, foraging ecology and conservation of seabirds.


BSc. (Hons.), PhD

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Research interests

Much of my research is collaborative, involving researchers world-wide, and focuses on topics that include conservation, fisheries interactions, impacts of introduced predators, habitat preferences, at-sea activity patterns, foraging ecology, overlap with fisheries, food web structure, population dynamics, stable isotopes, pollutants, population genetic structure, hormones and behaviour, comparative breeding biology and population trends.

My main field sites are Bird Island (South Georgia) and Signy Island (South Orkneys). Bird Island holds an unusually high diversity and abundance of seabirds suitable for a wide variety of comparative studies. BAS has carried out long-term population studies of albatrosses and petrels at Bird Island dating back to early 1960s (for wandering albatross), 1970s (grey-headed and black-browed albatrosses) and 1990s (light-mantled sooty albatrosses and giant petrels). We also carry out a variety of dedicated studies, integrating conventional observational techniques with the latest in tracking and logging technology, and molecular and stable isotope analysis. A large component of the current research is directed at addressing the declines in albatross and petrel populations as a result of incidental mortality in longline and trawl fisheries.

Publications (top 20)

  1. Tancell, C., Sutherland, W.J and Phillips, R.A. (in press) Marine spatial planning for the conservation of albatrosses and large petrels breeding at South Georgia. Biological Conservation.
  2. Horswill, C., Ratcliffe, N., Green, J.A., Phillips, R.A., Trathan, P.N. and Matthiopoulos, J. (in press) Unravelling the relative roles of top-down and bottom-up forces driving population change in an oceanic predator. Ecology.
  3. Hays, G.C., Ferreira, L.C., Sequeira, A.M.M., Meekan, M.G., Duarte, C.M., Bailey, H., Bailleu, F., Bowen, W.D., Caley, M.J., Costa, D.P., Eguíluz, V.M., Fossette, S., Friedlaender, A.S., Gales, N., Gleiss, A.C., Gunn, J., Harcourt, R., Hazen, E.L., Heithaus, M.R., Heupel, M., Holland, K., Horning, M., Jonsen, I., Kooyman, G.L., Lowe, C.G., Madsen, P.T., Marsh, H., Phillips, R.A., Righton, D., Ropert-Coudert, Y., Sato, K., Shaffer, S., Simpfendorfer, C.A., Sims, D.W., Skomal, G., Takahashi, A., Trathan, P.N., Wikelski, M., Womble, J.N. and Thums, M. (in press) Key questions in marine megafauna movement ecology. Trends in Ecology and Evolution.
  4. Dunn, M.J., Jackson, J.A., Adlard, S. and Phillips, R.A. (in press) Population size and trends of southern giant petrels (Macronectes giganteus) nesting at Signy Island, South Orkney Islands. Polar Biology.
  5. Jiménez, S., Domingo, A., Brazeiro, A., Defeo, O., Wood, A.G., Froy, H., Xavier, J.C. and Phillips, R.A. (in press) Sex-related variation in the vulnerability of wandering albatrosses to pelagic longline fleets. Animal Conservation.
  6. Carneiro, A.P.B, Manica, A. and Phillips, R.A. (in press) Long-term changes in population size, distribution and productivity of skuas (Stercorarius spp.) at Signy Island, South Orkney Islands. Polar Biology.
  7. Scales, K.L., Miller, P.I., Ingram, S.N., Hazen, E.L., Bograd, S.J. and Phillips, R.A. (2016) Identifying predictable foraging habitats for a wide-ranging marine predator using ensemble ecological niche models. Diversity & Distributions 22, 212-224.
  8. Moreno, R., Stowasser, G., McGill, R.A.R., Bearhop, S. and Phillips, R.A. (2016) Assessing the structure and temporal dynamics of seabird communities: the challenge of capturing marine ecosystem complexity. Journal of Animal Ecology 85, 199-212.
  9. Lewis, S., Phillips, R.A., Burthe, S.J., Wanless, S. and Daunt, F. (2015) Contrasting responses of male and female foraging effort to year-round wind conditions. Journal of Animal Ecology 84, 1490-1496.
  10. Navarro, J., Cardador, L., Brown, R. And Phillips, R.A. (2015) Spatial distribution and ecological niches of non-breeding planktivorous petrels. Scientific Reports 5, 12164.
  11. Carneiro, A.P.B, Manica, A. and Phillips, R.A. (2015) Flexibility in foraging strategies of brown skuas in response to local and seasonal dietary constraints. Journal of Ornithology 156, 625-633.
  12. Watanuki, Y., Yamamoto, T., Yamashita, A., Ishii, C., Ikenaka, Y., Nakayama, S.M., Ishizuka,M., Suzuki, Y., NiizumaY., Meathrel, C.E., and Phillips, R.A. (2015) Mercury concentrations in primary feathers reflect pollutant exposure in discrete non-breeding grounds used by short-tailed shearwaters. Journal of Ornithology 156, 847-850.
  13. Guerreiro, M., Phillips, R.A., Cherel, Y., Ceia, F.R., Alvito, P., Rosa, R. and Xavier, J.C. (2015) Habitat and trophic ecology of Southern Ocean cephalopods from stable isotope analyses. Marine Ecology Progress Series 530, 119-134.
  14. Jiménez, S., Domingo, A, Brazeiro, A., Defeo, O. and Phillips, R.A. (2015) Marine debris ingestion by albatrosses in the southwest Atlantic Ocean. Marine Pollution Bulletin 96, 149-154.
  15. Brown, R.M., Techow, NMSM, Wood, A.G. and Phillips, R.A. (2015) Hybridization and back-crossing in giant petrels (Macronectes giganteus and M. halli) at Bird Island South Georgia, and a summary of hyrbridization in seabirds. PLoS ONE 10, e0121688.
  16. Torres, L.G., Sutton, P.J.H., Thompson, D.R., Delord, K., Weimerskirch, H., Sagar, P.M., Sommer, E., Dilley, B.J., Ryan, P.G and Phillips, R.A. (2015) Poor transferability of species distribution models for a pelagic predator, the grey petrel, indicates contrasting habitat preferences across ocean basins. PLoS ONE 10, e0120014.
  17. Grecian, W.J., McGill, R., Phillips, R.A., Ryan, P.G. and Furness, R.W. (2015) Quantifying variation in δ13C and δ15N isotopes within and between feathers and individuals: Is one sample enough? Marine Biology 162, 733-741.
  18. Weimerskirch, H., Delord, K., Guitteaud, A., Phillips, R.A. and Pinet, P. (2015) Extreme variation in migration strategies between and within wandering albatross populations during their sabbatical year, and their fitness consequences. Scientific Reports 5, 8853.
  19. Fretwell, P.T., Phillips, R.A., Brooke, M. de L., Fleming A.H. and McArthur A. (2015) Using the unique spectral signature of guano to identify unknown seabird colonies. Remote Sensing of Environment 156, 448-456.
  20. Froy, H., Lewis, S., Catry, P., Bishop, C.M., Forster, I.P., Fukuda, A., Higuchi, H., Phalan, B., Xavier, J.C., Nussey, D.H. and Phillips, R.A. (2015) Age-related variation in foraging behaviour in the wandering albatross at South Georgia: no evidence for senescence. PLoS ONE 10, e0116415.

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External Engagement and Impact

Committee/panel activities

Convenor, Population and Conservation Status working group of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP)

Scientific Adviser, UK delegation to ACAP

Member, Scientific Committee of Antarctic Research (SCAR) Group of Experts on Bird and Marine Mammals

Editorial responsibilities

Associate Editor, The Ibis

Associate Editor, Emu- Austral Ornithology

Media Coverage

My work regularly appears in the media and you can  find out more on my BAS profile.

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