Professor Phoebe Barnard

BSc Hons (Acadia, Canada),
MSc (Wits),
PhD (Uppsala, Sweden)

Chief Executive Officer, Stable Planet Alliance

Associate Science, Policy and Comms Strategist, Conservation Biology Institute

Affiliate Professor, University of Washington

Conservation biology has had to confront its own self-limitations and find its voice and power. Increasingly, we need to operate in triage mode – separating out and focusing on those things that we can change, versus managing as well as possible those things that we cannot change, and having the wisdom and serenity to know the difference. Phoebe’s work therefore focuses on ecological connectivity, species and ecosystem early warning decisions, human climate migration and green economic recovery. She’s interested in how to best support smart decisions at global and regional levels, to help as many species as possible make it through the anthropogenic gauntlet of the next few centuries. She is helping organizations and agencies develop and apply policy, ground-level training, and the principles of rapid, evidence-based decision support platforms, using citizen science and professional science.

Having relocated back to the USA after 34 years in Africa  and 4 in Canada, Phoebe remains active in the African conservation and science-policy scenes, partly through her many students and mentees from across the continent, including at the Fitz. She’s been chief science and policy officer and associate strategist with the Conservation Biology Institute (which is advising China on the biodiversity impacts of its massive Belt and Road Initiative for global infrastructure development, and hosting her development of biodiversity early warning systems in North America), and consultant to the Center for Large Landscape Conservation (which is leading global connectivity conservation through the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas’ Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group). She is also an affiliate full professor at the University of Washington, and research associate of both the Fitz and the African Climate and Development Initiative at UCT. 

At the Fitz from 2008-2017, Phoebe co-led with Durham University’s Prof Brian Huntley a joint UCT/SANBI international research team on global change and conservation biology of fynbos endemics, using global change biology, conservation biology, biogeography, and behavioural, evolutionary, population, molecular and stress ecology in order to understand bird vulnerability in real-life and virtual landscapes. She also established, with the late Phil Hockey and then with Peter Ryan and postdoc Dayo Osinubi, the Fitz’s research program on intra-African bird migration.

She has worked on diverse issues, small and large -- from the finer points of sexual selection in flashy African birds, and the energetics and behaviour of raptors in North America and southern Africa, to national-scale biodiversity and climate change strategic planning, policy and research, to the status and trends of the world’s ecosystems and their ability to support human health, livelihoods and wellbeing.

Earlier, Phoebe founded and ran Namibia’s national biodiversity and climate change programs, trained young scientists at the University of Namibia, and contributed to that country’s environmental observation system, Africa’s first.  She was a member of the global board, exco and scenarios group of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and coordinated the scientific work of the Global Invasive Species Program secretariat. She has produced over 100 scientific papers, three books, numerous booklets and book chapters, and a government biosafety policy, and successfully raised funds to establish a national park in Namibia.

Phoebe was previously principal and lead scientist for climate bioadaptation (2005-2016) and biodiversity futures (2015-2016) at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and honorary president of BirdLife South Africa (2013-2016). She serves on the editorial boards of Ecography and African Journal of Ecology, and recently, Climate Change Responses, Biology Letters and Animal Conservation. She has been honoured with a Fulbright Fellowship (1993-94), a Society for Conservation Biology Distinguished Service Award (government category), the latter in 2002, the same year as Sir David Attenborough (media category) and Prof Georgina Mace (academic category), and a Forbes Distinguished Professional Achievement Award (2019).

Current student


Daniël Cloete (UCT): The impact of fragmentation on bird-pollinated fynbos communities (Co-supervisors: Peter Ryan and Mark Brown)

Earlier postdoctoral researchers and students

Postdoctoral researchers

Samuel Temidayo (Dayo) Osinubi:  Influence of climate and land use changes on past ranges and current populations of focal intro-African migratory landbird species (Co-supervisor: Peter Ryan)

Alan T.K. Lee: Spatial and temporal patterns of abundance and dispersal by fynbos avifauna (Co-supervisor: Peter Ryan)

Clelia Sirami: Global changes and bird community responses to vegetation structure in southern Africa (2007-2010), (Co-supervisor: Guy Midgley)


Lavinia Perumal (UCT/ACDI): The impact of large-scale infrastructure and foreign direct investments on biodiversity intactness, ecological function and ecosystem services in Africa and South Africa (2016-20) (Co-supervisors: Mark New and IIASA systems analysts Matthias Jonas and Wei Liu)

Anina Heystek (U. Stellenbosch): Spatial ecology of bird pollination in the Cape Floristic Region (2014-15) (Co-supervisor: Anton Pauw)

Sally Hofmeyr (UCT): Impacts of environmental change on large terrestrial bird species in South Africa: insights from citizen science data (2008-12) (Co-supervisor: Les Underhill)

Thabiso Mokotjomela (U.Stellenbosch): Bird dispersal of invasive alien plants in changing climates: emerging invaders in South Africa (2008-10) (Co-supervisors: Karen Esler, Charles Musil)

Seb Rahlao (U.Stellenbosch): Current and future vulnerability of South African ecosystems to perennial grass invasion under global change scenarios (2006-09) (Co-supervisors: Karen Esler, Sue Milton)


Beth Mackay (UCT): Urbanization and disease in Cape Sugarbirds (2013-14) (Co-supervisor: Bradley

Anina Heystek (U.Stellenbosch): Spatial ecology of bird pollination in the Cape Floristic Region (2012-13, upgraded, Co-supervisor: Anton Pauw)

Loïc Chalmandrier: Fire impact on bird communities of the Cape fynbos (2008-09) (Co-supervisor: Clelia Sirami)


Anina Heystek (U.Stellenbosch): Competition for pollination structures in Erica communities (2011) (Co-supervisor: Anton Pauw)

Lara Croxford (U.Stellenbosch): Avians versus arthropods: what really pollinates Protea lepidocarpodendron? (2011) (Co-supervisor: Anton Pauw)

Will Wyness (UCT): Protea compacta architecture and Cape Sugarbird (Promerops cafer) behaviour: a loose connection or tight bond? (2011) (Co-supervisor: Jeremy Midgley)

Recent Publications


Barnard, P. 2023. Earth at the crossroads. The Ecological Citizen 6(2): epub-086-epub-088. 
Barnard, P. and Dillard, C. 2023.  To restore nature, we must invest more in our children: Understanding the connection between women’s and children’s rights, family planning, and the environmental crisis. LA Progressive, 2 June 2023.

Fletcher, C. and Barnard, P. 2023. Turning at the crossroads of humanity. The Messenger
Fletcher, C., Ripple, W.J., Barnard, P., Beamer, K., Bowen, J., Cooney, M., Crist, E. , Field, C., Karl, D.M., King, D.A., McGregor, D.P., Mora, C., Newsome, T. and Wilson, M. 2023  (in review). A crisis risking global stability. Currently at Science.

Joy, M. and Barnard, P. 2023. Slow solutions to fast-moving ecological crises won't work - changing basic human behavious must come first. The Conversation.

Merz, J.J., Barnard, P., Rees, W.E., Smith, D., Maroni, M., Rhodes, C.J., Dederer, J.H., Bajaj, N., Joy, M.K., Wiedmann, T. and Sutherland, R. 2023. World scientists’ warning: the behavioural crisis driving ecological overshoot. Science Progress 106(3)

Rhodes, C.J., Barnard, Pl and Merz, J.J., 2023. The human behavioural crisis: A critical intervention point for ecological overshoot. Sage Perspectives: 14 Dec 2023

Barnard, P. 2022. How investments in the Earth’s future should be made by Patagonia and others. Letter to The Guardian, 23 Sept 2022. 
Barnard, P. 2022. The box and the crossroads. Imagine Magazine, online (by invitation), 18 June 2022:
Barnard, P. and Dillard, C. 2022.   Access to family planning takes on new urgency in a post-Roe, hotter world, 10 July 2022. Ms Magazine, News & Opinion (Global),
Barnard, P. 2022. Global groundwater wells risk running dry.  Merz Institute News, online (by invitation), 29 June 2022. 


Barnard, P. 2021 (blog). Climate change preparedness: how do we get from here to there? drawn from unpublished manuscript:  Ziervogel, G., Barnard, P., Chapman, A., Holloway, A. and Small, J. Incorporating climate change preparedness into municipal and provincial planning. Draft manuscript on lessons learned from two climate planning workshop series held in Western Cape, South Africa. 

Barnard, P. and Moomaw, W., 2021. Six areas where action must focus to rescue this planet. The Conversation, Africa edition, 12 November 2021.

Barnard, P., Moomaw, W.R., Fioramonti, L., Laurance, W.F., Mahmoud, M.I., O’Sullivan, J., Rapley, C.G., Rees, W.E., Rhodes, C.J., Ripple, W.J., Semiletov, I.P., Talberth, J., Tucker, C., Wysham, D. and Ziervogel, G. 2021. World scientists’ warnings into action, local to global. Science Progress, Science Progress,, 11 Nov 2021. Read and sign the paper and see summary in 15 world languages + author info at 

Coetzee, A., Barnard, P. and Pauw, A. 2021. Reliability and quality of artificial nectar feeders for birds in the Cape Floristic Region. Ostrich 2021:1-6:

Ripple, W.J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T.M., Barnard, P. and Moomaw, W.R. 2021. The climate emergency: 2020 in review.  Scientific American 7 Jan 2021:


Lee, A.T.K., Barnard, P., Fraser, M., Lennard, C., Smit, B. and Oschadleus, H.D. 2020. Body mass and condition of a fynbos bird community: investigating impacts of time, weather and raptor abundance from long-term citizen- science datasets. Ostrich.

Ripple, W.J., Wolf, C, Newsome, T.M., Barnard, P., Moomaw, W.R., Law, B.E. and Maas, B. 2020. The climate emergency, forests, and transformative change. BioScience 70(6):446-447.


Barnard, P.  2019.  Tracking species in space and time: citizen science in Africa.  In: Wilson, J. and Primack, R.B. (eds).  Conservation Biology in Sub-Saharan Africa. Sinauer Associates.  Published online 9 September 2019 at   

Ripple, W.J., Wolf, C, Newsome, T.M., Barnard, P., Moomaw, W.R. and 14,859 scientist signatories from 158 countries. 2019.  World scientists’ warning of a climate emergency.  BioScience Published online 5 November 2019.  


Coetzee, A. and Barnard, P.  2018. Nectar quandary: surviving the suburbs. African Birdlife July/August 2018: 70-72.

Coetzee, A., Barnard, P. and Pauw, A. 2018. Urban nectarivorous bird communities in Cape Town, South Africa, are structured by ecological generalization and resource distribution. Journal of Avian Biology

Osinubi, S.T., Dalton, D., Barnard, P. and Ryan, P. 2018. A tale of three kings: study of the intra-African migration of the woodland kingfisher. Poster paper, International Ornithological Congress, Vancouver, Canada, August 2018


Barnard, P.  2017. Climate change, biodiversity early warning systems, and Africa’s future. Africa Conservation Telegraph 12 (1). Published January 2017 online at

Barnard, P., Altwegg, R., Ebrahim, I. and Underhill, L.G.  2017.  Early warning systems for biodiversity in southern Africa – how much can citizen science mitigate imperfect data?  Biological Conservation 208:183-188. (published online 27 Sept 2016,

Chambers, L.E., Barnard, P.,  Poloczanska, E.S., Hobday, A.J., Keatley, M.R., Allsopp, N and Underhill, L.G. 2017. Southern hemisphere biodiversity and global change: data gaps and strategies. Austral Ecology 42:20-30. (Published online 24 Aug 2016)

Lee, A.T.K. and Barnard, P.  2017. How well do bird atlas reporting rates reflect bird densities? Correlates of detection from the Fynbos biome, South Africa, with applications for population estimation, Ostrich 88:1, 9-17, DOI: 10.2989/00306525.2016.1219413.

Lee, A.T.K., Altwegg, R. and Barnard, P.  2017. Estimating conservation metrics from atlas data: the case of southern African endemic birds. Bird Conservation International (in press):  DOI: 10.1017/S0959270916000307.

Lee. A.T.K., Wright, D. and Barnard, P. 2017. Hot bird drinking patterns: drivers of water visitation in a fynbos bird community. African Journal of Ecology 55: 541-553.

Mackay, B., Lee, A.T.K., Barnard, P., Moller, A.P. and Brown, M. 2017. Urbanization, climate and ecological stress indicators in an endemic nectarivore, the Cape sugarbird.  Journal for Ornithology DOI: 10.1007/s10336-017-1460-9.  Published online 12 May 2017.

Sutherland, W.J. Barnard, P., Broad, S., Clout, M., Connor, B., Côté, I.M, Dicks, L.V., Doran, H., Entwistle, A.C., Fleishman, E.,Fox, M., Gaston, K.J., Gibbons, D.W. Jiang, Z, Keim, B., Licorish, F.A., Markillie, P., Monk, K.A., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Peck, L.S., Pretty, J., Spalding, M.D., Tonneijck, F.H., Wintle, B.C.  and Okendon, N. 2017.  A 2017 horizon scan of emerging issues for global conservation and biological diversity. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 32: 31-40

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