Professor David R Towns

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Professor of Applied Conservation, Programme Leader, Applied Conservation

Phone: +64 9 921 9999 ext 6574


Physical Address:
WU Building, Wakefield St, Auckland 


MSc, PhD

Memberships and Affiliations:

  • Member, Institute for Applied Ecology New Zealand (AUT)
  • Member, New Zealand Ecological Society
  • Member, Society for Conservation Biology
  • Society for Research on Amphibians and Reptiles in New Zealand (Honorary Life Member)
  • Graduate Research Fellow, Northern Illinois University (USA)
  • Honorary Research Associate, Department of Conservation


I gained MSc (First Class Hons) on ecology and reproductive biology of Suter’s skink at Auckland University in 1972 followed by PhD on ecology of kauri forest stream ecosystems completed at Auckland University in 1976. Based on findings from the PhD study, I was then awarded a Post-doctoral Fellowship at Florida A&M University (two years) studying the taxonomic relationship of a major group of stream insects present in New Zealand, the mayfly family Leptophlebiidae.  On completion of the fellowship, I then moved to the University of Adelaide where I taught freshwater ecology and physiological ecology as well as continuing research on mayflies.  I also conducted new studies on South Australian intermittent streams and their invertebrate faunas before returning to New Zealand in 1982.  Since returning, I have worked as a government scientist (Wildlife Service and Department of Conservation) on the conservation of threatened species of reptiles, particularly lizards.  I have also had a joint position with the Department of Conservation and AUT, where I have led or assisted with the development of an undergraduate major and post-graduate qualifications in applied conservation.

Teaching Areas:

  • Applied Conservation
  • Conservation Biology

Research Areas:

Responses of island ecosystems after removal of introduced mammals – and the roles of invertebrates, reptiles and seabirds in ecological recovery.  Also, the development of ecological and social measures of conservation management on islands.

Research Summary:

In my role at the Department of Conservation (1987-2017), my work has included research on methods for conservation of threatened species of reptiles the effects of island pest eradication, and the restoration of seabird island ecosystems. At AUT, this work has expanded to include the biological and social measures of coastal ecosystem management and direct planning assistance for restoration projects by community groups and as inter-institutional collaborations.  

Current Research Projects:

  • co-editing a special issue for Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand on the state of New Zealand conservation (due for completion in 2019)
  • collaboration with the Centre for Learning and Teaching (AUT) for the development of conservation teaching tools
  • understanding views of criteria for success for biodiversity conservation by community groups (with PhD student Mel Galbraith)


Recent Papers:

  • Jarvis RM, Galbraith M, Ough Dealy H, Perrott J, Towns DR. submitted.  The past, present, and future of community-led conservation in New Zealand.  Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand
  • Hare KM, Borrelle SB, Buckley HL, Collier KJ, Constantine R, Perrott JK, Watts CH, Towns DR in press. The losers: species in New Zealand exposed to complex and ambiguous conservation threats.  Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
  • Borrelle SB, Boersch-Supan PH, Gaskin CP, Towns DR. 2018. Influences on recovery of seabirds on islands where invasive predators have been eradicated, with a focus on Procellariiformes. Oryx, 52(2), 346-358.
  • Thoresen JJ, Towns D, Leuzinger S, Durrett M, Mulder CPH., Wardle DA. 2017. Invasive rodents have multiple indirect effects on seabird island invertebrate food web structure. Ecological Applications, 27(4), 1190-1198.

Book Chapter

  • Towns D, Broome K, Sanders A. 2018.  Ecological restoration on New Zealand islands: a history of shifting scales and paradigms. Pp 205-220 In: Australian Island Arks: Conservation management and opportunities. Edited by: Moro D, Ball D, Bryant S. CSIRO Publishing.

For other publications see Google Scholar


  • Research Excellence Award.  Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences (2016)
  • Life Membership, Society of Research on Amphibians and Reptiles in New Zealand (2018)