Dr Michael Brooke

at Univ of cambridge


Strickland Curator of Ornithology, University Museum of Zoology

After completing a seabird DPhil at Oxford while employed as warden of Skokholm Bird Observatory, Michael did post-docs at Oxford and then Cambridge.

From there, he was absorbed onto the staff of Zoology Department on a part-time basis. This trajectory allowed him scope to travel (to some of the world's most wonderful places) and for consultancy, the latter constructively interacting with his academic interests.

Research Interests

Michael's conservation work is connected to his position as Curator of Birds in the University Museum of Zoology and ranges from the strictly practical to more theoretical research which nevertheless aims to provide information of direct use to conservation planning. This spectrum is reflected in the work of recent research students who have studied, inter alia, declining ring ousels in Britain, climate-induced shifts in the geographical ranges of North American birds, and what causes the apparent male adult sex ratio bias among threatened bird species.


Through connections with the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, I am involved with ongoing programmes to remove troublesome alien species from oceanic islands, for example in the Pitcairn Islands of the tropical Pacific and the Cape Verdes off West Africa. A companion desk study, undertaken collaboratively with the RSPB, investigated how, at a global level, such eradication programmes might be prioritised in terms of their conservation worth to birds. There may be scope for expanding this work to integrate other taxa.

While the know-how for ridding islands of invasives is improving fast, the information on how rapidly species of conservation concern recover after an eradication is poor. Can we develop a better understanding of the circumstances in which that recovery is given a kick-start by immigration, as opposed to enhanced reproductive success? The Falkland Islands, where some 60 islands have now benefitted from rat eradication, is an archipelago where such a project might be undertaken. Recently I paid a reconnaissance visit to the Islands with the practical assistance of the newly-established South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute.

Since 2002, I have led a small team monitoring the population dynamics of the Critically Endangered Raso Lark of the Cape Verdes, a species displaying a marked male sex ratio bias. The species has increased remarkably in numbers 2004-2011, from about 65 individuals to 1500. It now seems likely that the population can only decline which may offer enhanced opportunities for investigating selection on the morphology which shows an unusual degree of sexual size dimorphism.


Seabirds continue to throw up taxonomic problems. Slightly perversely, these may be due to the extreme philopatry of some species and the considerable post-Pleistocene range lability of others. Resolution of the taxonomic uncertainty will help ensure conservation resources are wisely targeted. One seabird of great interest, because of its extraordinary range expansion, is the Northern Fulmar. Our contemporary studies provided little support for the traditional 'out-of-Iceland' scenario for the expansion. We are currently exploring whether the picture painted by 100-year old museum specimens is similar.

  • 11 March 2022, 5:30pm

    Democracy and distrust after the pandemic

    The 2022 Dr Seng Tee Lee Lecture was delivered by Professor Shelia Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Harvard Kennedy School.

  • 8 February 2017, 5:30pm

    CSaP Annual Lecture 2017: Professor Chris Whitty, Department of Health

    There will be profound changes in health and disease over the next 20 years. The causes, demography and geography of ill health will shift significantly whilst the trend of demand for healthcare growing more rapidly than GNI is likely to continue. This lecture by Professor Chris Whitty discussed how it can predict, and help respond to, the policy challenges that will follow over the next 2 decades.