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Dr Malcolm Burgess

Dr Malcolm Burgess

Honorary Research Fellow

 Washington Singer 


Washington Singer Laboratories, University of Exeter, Perry Road, Prince of Wales Road, Exeter, EX4 4QG, UK


Malcolm Burgess is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour, College of Life and Environmental Sciences.


PhD, Conservation Biology, June 2008
‘Spatial patterns and population dynamics of a reintroduced Mauritius kestrel (Falco punctatus) population’.
University of Reading, Centre for Agri-environmental Research, UK

MSc, Biological Science Research, August 2002
‘Beech fruiting and the growth of an introduced population of the Edible dormouse (Glis glis) in England’.
Royal Holloway, University of London, UK


RSPB Conservation Scientist (2011 – present) woodland bird research and conservation and agri-environment scheme evaluation.

Consultant conducting research, analysis and monitoring for the RSPB, Natural England, Fera and various conservation organisations (2009 – present).

Research posts; avian biodiversity hotspots (2003-2004) and breeding phenology in wild birds (2008), Imperial College at Silwood Park.

Field biologist; Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (1996-2000) and University of Bristol (2000).

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Research interests

General areas of interest:

  • Conservation biology
  • Population dynamics
  • Adaptation to climatic change
  • Ornithology

Current research:

My main research centres on studies of woodland birds, utilizing data from historical nest-box monitoring (from 1955) and various on-going field studies. This includes very detailed breeding and life-history data for the largest population of pied flycatchers in southern England. Pied flycatchers are a widely used and ideal model system, a system particularly well suited to studying the impacts of climatic change on migratory birds. My research is focused on identifying temporal trends and individual responses to climatic conditions, particularly through natal dispersal and migration behaviour and its reproductive and life-history consequences. In 2010 I set up the Southwest Pied Flycatcher Monitoring Network (, a citizen science project which brings together many regional long running nest-box datasets and supports and guides continual monitoring to enable this information to be used in science and conservation.

I collaborate with a network of European researchers who use pied flycatchers as a model system to investigate:

Colour variation and population genetics

I collaborate with Toni Laaksonen’s group (University of Turku, Finland) focusing on sexual selection and reproductive consequences of plumage variations and in assessing the population genetic structure of UK and other European populations of pied flycatchers. Feathers and data on plumage characteristics are used to examine the evolutionary reasons for maintaining the wide colour variation that the pied flycatcher exhibits across Europe, and its reproductive consequences. Pied flycatcher plumage is highly variable both within and among populations but the evolutionary reasons for the persistence of this variation are not currently understood.

Migration behaviour

I lead on a project with Chris Hewson (British Trust for Ornithology) using new technology to determine migration timing, routes, strategies, stopover locations and sub-Saharan wintering locations of UK breeding pied flycatchers. We hope to gain insights into how, where and when pied flycatchers migrate through Europe and Africa as a fundamental gap in our knowledge is quantifying timing of spring migration and arrival date to breeding grounds by individual birds, the influence of climate on this, and potential carry-over effects from wintering locations and migratory stop-over sites.

I also contribute to research led by Christiaan Both (University of Groningen, The Netherlands) investigating dispersal behaviour and adaptation to climatic change. In particular this work examines the potential role of long-distance latitudinal dispersal through stable isotope analysis, population genetics, and studies of plumage characteristics. Long distance movements that are responsive to climatic conditions on breeding grounds could be crucial for adaptation to climate change, because genes for earlier migration could be introduced into different populations giving new potential for natural selection.

Spatial variation in responses to climate warming

In collaboration with Albert Phillimore (University of Edinburgh), James Pearce-Higgins and Dave Leech (British Trust for Ornithology) and Ken Smith I work on several related projects investigating phenological mismatch.

Some animals can potentially adapt to climatic change by altering timing of spring migration, emergence or the onset of breeding. In some species this has been shown to cause a mismatch between predator and prey, when phenological changes differ between species. Mismatch particularly affects species of habitats such as woodlands, which have a very short and seasonal food peak. Mismatch affects long-distance migratory birds because of their complex annual cycle and is thought to contribute to the 40 % decline in UK Pied flycatcher populations observed since 1990. At the UK scale we are investigating spatial variation in tree phenology, caterpillar availability (prey) and bird (predator) breeding parameters in relation to climate and its population consequences.

Recent publications

Ouwehand, J, Ahola, M, Ausems, A, Bridge, E, Burgess, M, Hahn, S, Hewson, S, Klaassen, R, Laaksonen, T, Lampe, H, Velmala, W and Both, C. (2015) Light-level geolocators reveal migratory connectivity in European populations of pied flycatchers Ficedula hypoleuca Journal of Avian Biology on-line early

Sim, I, Green, M, Rebecca, G and Burgess, M (2015) Geolocators reveal new insights into ring ouzel migration routes and wintering areas. Bird Study on-line early

Whytock R, Davis D, Whytock R, Burgess M, Minderman J, Mallord J (2015) Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix nest provisioning rates are correlated with seasonal caterpillar availability in British Oak Quercus woodlands. Bird Study 62: 339-347

Laaksonen, T, Sirkiä, P, Calhim, S, Brommer, J, Leskinen, P, Primmer, C, Adamik, P, Artemyev, A, Belskii, E, Both, C, Bureš, S, Burgess, M, Doligez, B, Forsman, J, Grinkov, V, Hoffmann, D, Ivankina, E, Král, M, Krams, I, Lampe, H, Moreno, J, Mägi, M, Nord, A, Potti, J, Ravussin, P-A and Sokolov, L. (2015) Sympatric divergence and clinal variation in multiple coloration traits of Ficedula flycatchers. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 28:779-790

Sirkiä P, Adamik P, Artem'ev A, Belskii E, Both C, Bures S, Burgess M, Bushuev A, Forsman J, Grinkov V, Hoffmann D, Jarvinen A, Kral M, Krams I, Lampe H, Moreno J, Magi M, Nord A, Potti J, Ravussin P, Sokolov L, Laaksonen T (2015) Fecundity selection on multiple male colouration traits does not vary along large geographical cline of trait means in a passerine bird. Biological Journal of the Linnaean Society 114:808-827

Burgess M, Bellamy P, Gillings S, Noble D, Grice P, Conway G (2015) The impact of changing habitat availability on population trends of woodland birds associated with early successional plantation woodland. Bird Study 62:39-55

Burgess M, Bright J, Morris A, Field R, Grice P, Cooke A, Peach W (2015) Influence of agri-environment scheme options on territory settlement by Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) and Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra). J Ornithol 156:153-163

Burgess, M (2014) Restoring abandoned coppice for birds: few effects of conservation management on occupancy, fecundity and productivity of hole nesting birds. Forest Ecology & Management 330: 205-217

Burgess, M, Woolcock, D, Hales, R, Waite, R and Hales, A (2012) Captive husbandry and socialisation of the Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax). Zoo Biology 31: 725-735

Wenzel, M, Webster, L, Blanco, G, Burgess, M, Kerbiriou, C, Segelbacher, G, Piertney S and Reid, J. (2012) Pronounced genetic structure and low genetic diversity in European red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) populations. Conservation Genetics 13: 1213-1230

Lehtonen, P., Laaksonen, T,Artemyev, A, Belskii, E., Berg, P., Both, C., Buggiotti, L., Bureš, S., Burgess, M., Bushuev, A., Krams, I., Moreno, I., Mägi, M., Nord, A., Potti, J., Ravussin, P., Sirkiä, P., Sætre, G., Winkel, W. and Primmer, C. (2012) Candidate genes for color and vision exhibit signals of selection across the pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca) breeding range. Heredity 108: 431-440

Burgess, M, Woolcock, D, Hales, R and Hales, A (2011) A pilot release of captive-bred red-billed choughs into Cornwall, UK. In: Pritpal S, editor. Global Reintroduction Perspectives: IUCN. 135-140

Smith, K, Smith, L, Charman, E, Briggs, K, Burgess, M, Dennis, A, Harding, M, Isherwood, C, Isherwood, I and Mallord, J (2011) Large scale variation in the temporal patterns of the frass fall of defoliating caterpillars in Oak woodlands in Britain: implications for nesting woodland birds. Bird Study 58: 506-511

Burgess, M.D., Nicoll, M.A.C., Jones, C.G. and Norris, K. (2011) Multiple environmental gradients affect spatial variation in demography of a tropical bird population. Journal of Applied Ecology 80: 688-695

Awa, T., Burgess, M.D. and Norris, K. (2009) Investigating the practicality of using radio tracking to determine home range and movements of Picathartidae. Ostrich 80:145-151

Burgess, M.D., Black, R., Nicoll, M.A.C., Jones, C.G. and Norris, K. (2009) The use of agricultural, open and forest habitats by juvenile Mauritius kestrels Falco punctatus. Ibis 151: 63-76

Burgess, M.D., Nicoll, M.A.C., Jones, C.G. and Norris, K. (2008) Reduced dispersal reduces the strength of density-dependence in a tropical bird population. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B, 275: 1209-1216

Hadfield, J.D., Burgess, M.D., Lord, M., Philimore, A.B., Clegg, S.M. and Owens, I.P.F. (2006) Direct versus indirect sexual selection: genetic basis of colour, size and recruitment in a wild bird. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B, 273: 1347-1353

Orme, C.D.L., Davies, R.G., Burgess, M., Eigenbrod, F., Pickup, N., Olsen, V.A., Webster, A.J., Ding, T-S., Rasmussen, P.C., Ridgely, R.S., Stattersfield, A.J., Bennett, P.M., Blackburn, T.M., Gaston, K.J. and Owens, I.P.F. (2005) Global hotspots of species richness are not congruent with endemism or threat. Nature 436: 1016-1019

Burgess, M., Morris, P. and Bright, P. (2003) Population Dynamics of the Edible dormouse (Glis glis) in England. Acta Zoologica Hungaria 49: 27-31

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