Dr Rob Simmons

BSc (Hons) (London), MSc (Acadia), PhD (Witwatersrand)

Rob is a behavioural ecologist, conservation biologist and ornithologist specialising in the ecology of raptorial birds, cats and giraffe. His studies have taken him from the UK to Canada, and Sweden to Africa with his main interests being mating systems of harriers, sibling aggression in eagles, reproductive constraints in subtropical species, the evolution of giraffe, the impact of cats and climate change effects on birds. He moved from Windhoek in 2003 where he was part of the Biodiversity Programme for 14 years, specialising on the conservation of endemic, montane and wetland birds in Namibia. He now lives in Cape Town drawn here by black harriers, black eagles, whales and a stimulating research environment. His academic research on harrier ecology span both hemispheres and resulted in the publication of his first book Harriers of the World: their behaviour and ecology, published by Oxford University Press. He is continuing that work in collaboration with Fitz students with a 15-yr genetic, ecological and satellite-tagging study of endemic black harriers. A film of this work was completed in 2011 (The Secret Life of the Circler - HomeBrew Films). Rob's studies of climate change effects on birds include vultures and fynbos-endemics (with Phoebe Barnard) and he has also initiated the African continents' first studies of the impact of domestic cats on the biodiversity in greater Cape Town. Following his long-term studies of threatened birds in Namibia he has written his second book on Namibia's threatened birds, Birds to Watch in Namibia: red, rare and endemic species, with Chris Brown, and Jessica Kemper. He watches buzzards, whales and cats in between environmental impact assessments, from Constantia with his partner Marlei and two daughters.

50/50 aired an insert on Rob and Frances Morling's work on the impact of domestic cats on biodiversity in the Western Cape. Watch it here. You can listen to John Maytham interviewing Rob on Cape Talk about the 2020 paper published in Global Ecology and Conservation www.capetalk.co.za/articles/391515/cape-town-s-killer-cats-prey-on-27-million-local-animals-every-year-claims-study

A Home Brew 2018 documentary (directed by Claudio Velasquez) on Rob's Black Harrier research is on YouTube  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAgRh-AiJ8I

Simmons, R.E., Peters, K., Morling, and Fish, E. 2020. Cats as alien invasive predators, Carte Blanche SABC TV https://www.facebook.com/1497732400313404/posts/3477309689022322/                                                                               

Simmons RE, Seymour C, Jaki J. 2020. Cat impacts in Cape Town. For German/ Austrian TV.                      

Simmons RE, Seymour C, Roughton M. 2020. Cat impacts in Cape Town.  For China TV                                                    

Current students


Francisco Cervantes:  A kernel approach for analysing flight trajectories observed from vantage points. (Co-supervisors, Birgit ErniTheoni Photopoulou)

Graduated students


Marie-Sophie Garcia-Heras. 2017Integrating ecological parameters, foraging strategies and health status for the conservation of avian predators: the case of the threatened Black Harrier Circus maurus. (Co-supervisors: Beatriz Arroyo (IREC), Francois Mougeot (IREC), Arjun Amar)

Sonja Krüger. 2014. Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus meridionalis population dynamics and conservation in the 21st Century (Co-supervisor: Arjun Amar)

Conservation Biology Masters

Dara Sands: December 2015. Avian sensitivity map for Lesotho: a tool to aid planning and conservation in relation to the development of wind farms and associated wind energy infrastructure. (Co-supervisors: Arjun Amar, Samantha Ralston)

Frances Morling. June 2014. Cape Town’s cats: re-assessing predation through kitty-cams (Co-supervisor: Justin O’Riain)

Masumi Gudka. June 2012. The effects of pesticides on the breeding success and population of African Fish Eagles at Lake Naivasha, Kenya (Co-supervisor: Peter Ryan)

Sharon George. December 2010. Cape Town's domestic cats: prey and movement patterns in deep-urban and urban-edge areas (Co-supervisor: Justin O’Riain)

Recent commentaries for Nature and Science:

Pennisi E. 2022. This ancient giraffe relative head-butted rivals with an ‘amazing sexual weapon’ | Science | AAAS

Jones, N. 2022. How the giraffe got its neck: ‘unicorn’ fossil could shed light on puzzle (nature.com)

Recent publications

For a more comprehensive list see Google Scholar profile

Simmons, R.E., and Seymour, C.L. 2022. Commentary: colorful collar-covers and bells reduce wildlife predation by domestic cats in a continental European setting. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 10: 943598https://doi.org/10.3389/fevo.2022.850442

Pallett, J., Simmons, R.E. and Brown, C.J. 2022. Stggered towers on parrallel transmission lines: a new mitigation to reduce collisions of birds, especially bustards. Namibian Journal of the Environment 6: 14-21. https://www.nje.org.na/index.php/nje/article/view/volume6-pallett

Cervantes Peralta, F., Martins, M. and Simmons, R.E. 2022. Population viability assessment of an Endangered raptor using detection/non-detection data reveals susceptibility to wind farm impacts. Roy Society Open Sciencehttps://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.220043

Simmons, R.E., Seymour C, and O’Riain J. 2020. Domestic cat predation on wild animals in Cape TownAfrica Geographic. https://africageographic.com/stories/domestic-cat-predation-on-wild-animals-in-cape-town/                                      

Simmons, R.E. 2020. Opinion: Black blade mitigation: a new and exciting mitigation for wind turbines to reduce impacts to birds of prey. www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/opinion-black-blade-mitigation-a-new-and-exciting-mitigation-for-wind-turbines-to-reduce-impacts-to-birds-of-prey-2020-10-09/

Seymour, C.L., Simmons, R.E., Morling, F., George St.Peters, K. and O'Riain, M.J. 2020. Caught on camera: the impacts of urban domestic cats on wild prey in an African city and neighbouring protected areas. Global Ecology and Conservation. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2020.e01198

Garcia-Heras, M-S., Arroyo, B., Mougeot, F., Bildstein, K., Therrien, J-F. and Simmons, R.E. 2019 Migratory patterns and settlement areas revealed by remote sensing in an endangered intra-African migrant, the Black Harrier (Circus maurus). PLoS ONE 14(1): e0210756. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0210756

Garcia-Heras, M-S., Arroyo, B., Simmons, R.E., Camarero, P.R., Mateo, R. and Mougeot, F. 2018. Blood concentrations of PCBs and DDTs in an avian predator endemic to southern Africa: associations with habitat, electrical transformers and diet. Environmental Pollution 232:440-449 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2017.09.059

Garcia-Heras, M-S., Arroyo, B., Simmons, R.E., Camerero, P.B., Mateo, R., Garcia, J.T. and Mougeot, F. 2017. Pollutants and diet influence carotenoid levels and integument coloration in nestlings of an endangered raptor. Science of the Total Environment 603-604:299-307. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/2041-210X.12643

García-Heras, M-S., Mougeot, F., Simmons, R.E. and Arroyo, B. 2017. Regional and temporal variations in diet and provisioning rates suggest weather limits prey availability for an endangered raptor. Ibis 159: 567-579http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ibi.12478

Garcia-Heras, M-S., Arroyo, B., Mougeot, F., Amar, A. and Simmons, R. 2016. Does timing of breeding matter less where the grass is greener? Seasonal declines in breeding performance differ between regions in an endangered endemic raptor. Nature Conservation, 15:23-45. http://dx.doi.org/10.3897/natureconservation.15.9800

Garcia-Heras, M-S., Mougeot, F., Arroyo, B., Avery, G., Avery, M. and Simmons R.E. 2016. Is the Black Harrier Circus maurus a specialist predator? Assessing the diet of a threatened raptor species endemic to Southern Africa. Ostrich http://dx.doi.org/10.2989/00306525.2016.1257515

Krüger, S.C., Simmons, R.E. and Amar, A. 2015. Anthropogenic activities influence the abandonment of Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) territories in southern Africa. Condor 117:94-107. http://dx.doi.org/10.1650/CONDOR-14-121.1

Oatley, G., Simmons, R.E. and Fuchs, J. 2015. A molecular phylogeny of harriers (Circus, Accipitridae) indicate the role of long distance dispersal and migration in diversification. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 85:150-160. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2015.01.013

Seymour, C., Simmons, R.E., Joseph, G. & Slingsbury, J.G. 2015. On bird functional diversity: species richness and functional differentiation show contrasting responses to rainfall and vegetation structure in an arid landscape. Ecosystems 18:971-984http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10021-015-9875-8

Simmons, R.E., Brown, C.J. and Kemper, J. 2015. Birds to watch in Namibia: red, rare and endemic species. Ministry of Environment & Tourism and Namibia Nature Foundation, Windhoek.

Simmons, R.E., Kolberg, H., Braby, R. & Erni, B. 2015. Declines in migrant shorebird populations from a winter-quarter perspective. Conservation Biology 29:877-887. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cobi.12493

Semi-popular publications:

Simmons, R. and Martins, M. Taking avoiding action The value of SABAP to environmental impact assessmentsAfrican Birdlife 9(2): 53.

Simmons R. and Martins M. 2016. Harriers in the Hoanib. African Birdlife 4:61-63.

Black Harrier Progress
Black Harrier Satellite Tagging

TV inserts on the impact of cats on biodiversity:

Carte Blanche 

Simmons, R.E. and Altwegg, R. (2010), Necks-for-sex or competing browsers? A critique of ideas on the evolution of giraffe. Journal of Zoology, 282: 6–12. Listen to Podcast.
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