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Phoebe's bio

I am Affiliate (full) Professor at the University of Washington, Associate Science, Policy & Communications Strategist at the Conservation Biology Institute, and Research Associate of both the Centre of Excellence at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology and the African Climate and Development Initiative, at the University of Cape Town. Through my company "Biodiversity Strategy," I also recently supported the work of the IUCN Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group via the Center for Large Landscape Conservation on matters of global ecological connectivity, marine conservation and evidence-based decision-making.  I've written three books, numerous book chapters and over 100 scientific and semi-popular papers. 

Earlier, I founded, developed and led Namibia’s national biodiversity (1994-2003) and climate change programs (1999), worked as the Global Invasive Species Program's scientific and technological coordinator (2003-2005), and was the South African National Biodiversity Institute’s Principal Scientist (2005-2014), then Lead Scientist (2014-2016) of Climate Change Adaptation and its founding Head: Biodiversity Futures (2016). In 2017 I returned to the USA after 38 years in Canada and southern Africa to take the job of Executive Director of the Pacific Biodiversity Institute. I've also served, among many other roles, as course coordinator and core lecturer for the Tropical Biology Association (1995, Uganda and 2014, Tanzania), board and exco member of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2002-2005), Honorary President of BirdLife South Africa (2013-2016), External Examiner at the University of Jos (2014) and academic program reviewer at the University of Zurich (2015-2019). 

I was born and raised in the USA, but have lived, worked and studied in Canada, the UK, Namibia, Sweden, South Africa, and run short courses in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Always interested in the future, the state of nature, and the ways to bring about societal change, I've worked at large, medium and local scales to combine global understanding with fine-scale evidence.  My career so far has been spent mostly in southern Africa, working almost equally between government and academia, trying to underpin strategic planning and policy with scientific rigor.  I'm known as an active initiator, mentor and professor to young scientists across Africa and elsewhere, and as a team-builder, building consensus and resolving conflicts in the arenas of biodiversity, climate change and earth observation systems to community action, citizen science, sustainability and urban ecological connectivity. 

At the start of my career, I was a student of behavioral ecology in the '80s, switched to conservation biology in the '90s after my PhD, and added global change biology and environmental futures in the 2010s. I have founded and led programs in environmental research, science/policy and strategic planning in academia, governments, international organizations and nonprofits.  

I feel incredibly lucky to have been asked to join outstanding teams and departments wherever I've gone.  Award-wise, I've received a Fulbright Full Doctoral Scholarship (1993), the Distinguished Service Award (government category) of the Society for Conservation Biology (2002) for team-building in national biodiversity planning in Namibia, and the Esther Forbes Distinguished Professional Achievement Award (2019) from Bancroft School for my work in environmental wellbeing. I have BSc (Hons), MSc and PhD degrees in biology, zoology, behavioral and evolutionary ecology from Acadia, Witwatersrand and Uppsala universities respectively. 

See the rest of this page and the pages CV & publications and Videos & interviews. More about my media and storytelling work is on the page Conservation writing and filmmaking.   

In my spare time, I run and hikes trails, climb erupting volcanoes, am a community volunteer, explore and travel with my groovy filmmaker husband, and read history, economics, politics and catastrophe books to make sense of this bizarre crossroad in history.  More about us as a family is below.

I've argued that just as society needs early warning systems for tsunamis, disease outbreaks, or economic shocks, we need early-warning systems for biodiversity.  South Africa's successful early warning system applies citizen science and professional science to the policy, planning and management needs of tracking environmental change in southern Africa.   Download these booklets by clicking on the cover thumbnails.  After a year of public and agency stakeholder consultations, we are also developing a system based on South Africa's successes for implementation in the western USA and Canada (see below left), and we're in early planning stages for a national early warning system for biodiversity and natural hazards in Rwanda.


PhD in animal ecology, 1993-94 - Uppsala University, Sweden

Ornament and body size variation in some African passerine birds (published as a booklet, ISBN 91-554-3255-7, and four papers)

MSc in zoology, 1984-90 - University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa (part time amid lecturing and giving birth)

Comparative mating systems and reproductive ecology of the African whydahs, Vidua (published as 7 refereed and 4 unrefereed papers, awarded with distinction)

BSc (Honours) 1979-1983 - Acadia University, Canada

Foraging behaviour and energetics of northern harriers, Circus cyaneus (published as five refereed and four oral papers, awarded with distinction of 'grade A')

Independent non-degree postgraduate research


The foraging ecology and energetics of three African raptors in a montane grassland, 1983-1984, Drakensberg escarpment, South Africa  


A seven-month independent study of foraging energetics and habitat use of three birds of prey (published as two refereed and one unrefereed papers, and an oral paper on habitat use and fire management at a symposium organized to assist countries in developing conservation policy)


 Population ecology and reproductive failure in American kestrels, Falco sparverius, 1982, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, USA


A four-month research and public education internship, in which I studied mortality in a population of American kestrels Falco sparverius, later leading to a refereed short chapter in an international technical book. Academic credit (grade A) was granted by Acadia University. I was also a public environmental educator there. 

See my Publications page for more detail of these and other studies.

ORCID no:  0000-0002-6886-7036

'Half for Nature' and ecological connectivity

In 2018, I spent some months supporting the Center for Large Landscape Conservation as senior consultant to assist with the global policy framework for increasing ecological connectivity, in support of the IUCN's Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group.  This is an extension of my longterm passion for helping as many species as possible survive in rapidly urbanizing, transforming landscapes and seascapes, and for getting species through the gauntlet of the next few hundred years.

Biodiversity early warning systems

We think we know how the world is changing, but the reality always surprises us.  Too many species are declining, while others are spreading and shifting, and habitats are being degraded (and sometimes restored) functionally and structurally.  In October 2018, I joined the leadership team of the Conservation Biology Institute to take the former Pacific Biodiversity Institute's 'biodiversity early warning systems' program forward in the Cascadia Region and California, with the aim of adapting and scaling it up for other developing countries from the base of a very much stronger institute. (I'd led a team developing an early warning concept and system in South Africa, with a simple precursor in Namibia.)

Biodiversity futures in Africa


In late 2015 and 2016, I started SANBI's Biodiversity Futures Program to help anticipate societal curve-balls of the next 20-100 years which may blow our best-laid plans for biodiversity and ecosystems out of the water. 

Our first focus (2016-2019) was the impact of Chinese and other foreign direct investments (FDIs) in large-scale infrastructure on African biodiversity intactness, ecosystem services and processes. 

Having formally 'retired' from SANBI in late 2016 to lead the Pacific Biodiversity Institute, I now co-supervise PhD student Lavinia Perumal on infrastructure and biodiversity impacts with Professor Mark New of the University of Cape Town's African Climate and Development Initiative. We've worked on biodiversity futures with South African and international partners and collaborators, especially the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) outside Vienna

Species vulnerability and adaptation to climate change and land use change

From 2005-2016 at SANBI, I initiated and led 3 joint SANBI-UCT research programs on species vulnerability and adaptation to climate- and land use change (see also CV and pubications):

Fynbos endemics on the edgeThis project, which ended in late 2016, looked at how endemic birds of the fynbos, a globally outstanding biodiversity hotspot in South Africa, respond to the compound pressures of climate change and urbanization. We used the lenses of forecasting and hindcasting climate models, fire ecology, epidemiology, behaviour, micro-climate and habitat affinities, and conservation status assessment. Postdoc Alan T.K. Lee and a number of PhD, MSc and BSc (Hons) students have played important roles in this work, as have wonderful collaborators and partners in the UK, Australia and South Africa. For more info, see my FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology program page

Gondwana Edges Project

I've sought funding to expand our South African endemics global change vulnerability work to other Gondwana countries (Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand) to see how endemic and non-endemic birds, invertebrates, trees and other groups on the southern and western edges of continents are faring under climate and land use change.   This project is currently on hold as I've relocated to the USA.

Intra-African Migration Program

Postdoc fellow in my team, Dr Samuel Temidayo ("Dayo") Osinubi leads a UCT program on one of the deepest mysteries of African ornithology - intra-African migrant bird species.  Where do birds migrating only within the continent actually go at different times of their life cycle?  How do they adjust to land transformation and climate change?  The work currently focuses on kingfishers and cuckoos, and we seek funds for isotope markers and satellite transmitters to expand to other migrants, and to supplement bird ringing data, in association with researchers from Sweden, the UK, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa. For more info, see Dayo's FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology page.   


In the last decade we've lived between Cape Town, London, Boulder and the Pacific Northwest USA.  My talented filmmaker and media specialist husband John Bowey has commuted between  the USA, South Africa, the Middle East, and Europe with his company Transmediavision USAand we make documentary films on big societal and environmental issues together like   Back to Our Future: Climate Restoration and Survival.

Our twenty-somethings - Cat Simmons, Julia Simmons, Savannah Bowey and Matt Bowey are shaping their lives and careers in the USA and UK.  They are all talented, pithy, funny human beings.   

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