Associate Professor Res Altwegg

Designation: 
Research Chair
Expertise: 
Statistical Ecology; Wildlife Demography

Res Altwegg, an associate professor at UCT's Department of Statistical Sciences is currently heading up the new Centre for Statistics in Ecology, Environment and Conservation (SEEC) at UCT, which he established in 2014.

"Decision making in conservation often depends on observational data sets where key processes cannot be observed directly. We are estimating wildlife demography from capture-mark-recapture data using models that explicitly account for the observation process," Res explains about his work at SEEC. Current projects focus on the declining African penguin and the rare but increasing peregrine falcon, among many other species. 

Res is also one of ACDI's Research Chairs. Under this title his research program lies at the intersection between statistics, ecology, and climate change, and focuses on understanding impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem services as well as quantifying weather changes in southern Africa and their attribution to climate change.

Res has been studying the connection between life-history evolution and population/community ecology. Conceptually, he strives to combine field observations with controlled experiments and theoretical concepts, and aims to directly connect theory and data through statistical methods, and often uses the Akaike Information Criterion (AIC) to evaluate how well his data support different models corresponding to different biological hypotheses.

One of the main projects Res has worked on, aims to understand the range dynamics of Southern African birds. Many of these birds are presently expanding their range, while others are losing ground. He has been examining the demography of these species to learn what may drive their local population dynamics, and developing methods to quantify range changes more reliably. This work is in collaboration with Dr Birgit Erni at the Department of Statistical Science (UCT) and his colleagues in the Global Change Research Group at SANBI, Dr Guy Midgley and Dr Phoebe Barnard.

For his PhD, Res investigated predator-induced plasticity in the life history of water frogs (Rana lessonae / esculenta). Using artificial ponds and terrestrial outdoor enclosures, he was able to manipulate the growth environment and examine the reaction of these animals during two different stages in their complex life cycle. For his Diploma (MSc), he investigated dispersal between local populations within a metapopulation of House Sparrows (Passer domesticus), and examined how the decision to disperse depended on an individual's age, sex, and morphological characteristics.