Les Underhill is Professor of Avian Demography. He was appointed to the Department of Statistical Sciences at the University of Cape Town in 1972 as a Lecturer, and received ad hominem promotion to Professor in 1992, after having been Senior Lecturer (1976-1982) and Associate Professor (1982-1992). He has spent research leave at the Universities of Adelaide, Australia (1975), Auckland, New Zealand (1975) and Sheffield, England (1979-1980), and in the Statistics Department of the Institute for Arable Crops Research, Rothamsted Experimental Station, Harpenden, England (1985 & 1989). He held a one year appointment as statistical consultant at the Schweizerische Vogelwarte (Swiss Ornithological Institute), Sempach, Switzerland, in 1992. He has been Director of the Avian Demography Unit (ADU) since 1991. The ADU was responsible for the Southern African Bird Atlas Project (and the resulting Atlas of Southern African Birds), the Southern African Frog Atlas Project (and the resulting Atlas and Red Data Book of the Frogs of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland), the selection and description of sites for BirdLife International's Important Bird Areas programme, published asThe Important Bird Areas of Southern Africa, and the IUCN classification of the conservation status of the region's bird species, published as The Eskom Red Data Book of Birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland . The ADU is currently undertaking the Southern African Reptile Conservation Assessment, and a series of bird monitoring projects, such as the Coordinated Waterbird Counts (CWAC), the Birds In Reserves Project (BIRP), and Coordinated Avifaunal Roadcounts (CAR). The ADU is also responsible for the administration of SAFRING, the South African Bird Ringing Unit.
Les Underhill's degrees: B.Sc. (1968), B.Sc.(Hons) in Mathematics (1969), M.Sc. in Operations Research (1971) The address sort and other computer sorting techniques and Ph.D. in Mathematical Statistics (1973) Further distributions of multivariate quadratic forms are from UCT.
He is a fellow of the South African Statistical Association, a life member of the BirdLife South Africa and a founder-member of the Western Cape Wader Study Group. He serves on the Executive Committee of the International Wader Study Group, the special interest society for waders (Charadrii). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa. In 1998, he presented the plenary lecture representing the host country at the International Ornithological Congress in Durban, and was elected to the International Ornithological Committee.
The Endangered Wildlife Trust selected him for one of their "Top Ten Conservationist of the Year Awards" for 1999. As a member of the team of editors for The Atlas of Southern African Birds, he was awarded the John FW Herschell Medal of the Royal Society of South Africa in 2000. This gold medal is awarded for "outstanding contributions to science in southern Africa, especially of a multidisciplinary scientific nature." He was, along with René Navarro, also of the ADU, SANCOR's "Marine and Coastal Communicator of the Year" for 2001, in the scientific category. This award recognised their contribution to communicating the impact of the Treasure oil spill to the public, mainly via a website. In 2002, he was awarded the Gilchrist Medal by SANCOR, for outstanding contributions to the enhancement of marine science in South Africa.
He has written two first-year textbooks: Mathematics for B.Com. students and an introduction to Statistics.
Les Underhill's statistical research interests lie in techniques such as scaling methods, biplots and correspondence analysis which produce low dimensional graphical displays for data matrices.
Currently, most of his research emphasis is placed at the interface between statistics and biology, in applications of statistics in the biological sciences, particularly ornithology and ecology. He has developed models for the relationship between fish stocks and sea temperature in the Benguela ecosystem, for the analysis of moult in birds, and for the dynamics of Southern Right Whale, African Penguin, Hartlaub's Gull and Curlew Sandpiper populations. The Underhill index is used extensively for trend monitoring waterbird populations in Europe. He works with Dr RW Summers (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Britain) on predator-prey relations between Arctic Foxes, lemmings and ground-nesting bird species the Taimyr Peninsula, Siberia, Russia. In 1991 he participated in the International Arctic Expedition to the northeastern Taimyr Peninsula at the invitation of the Russian Academy of Sciences and in 2002 he returned to the tundra to join a pilot expedition to the Piasina Delta under the banner Pristine Wilderness? Unravelling the Riddles of the Siberian High Arctic Tundra Ecosystem with Special Reference to Reserve Management, Local Awareness and Ecotourism. He collaborates extensively with Dr RJM Crawford, Marine and Coastal Management Branch of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, on a series of project involving southern African seabirds. He was a member of the Prince Edward Islands Millennium Expedition in December 2001, assisting with counts of seabirds on these islands in the Southern Ocean.