David Towns awarded professor emeritus

04 Nov, 2020
David Towns and Kath McPherson
Photo credit: Matt Crawford

One of New Zealand’s most influential conservation scientists, Professor David Towns, has been awarded the title of professor emeritus in recognition of his exemplary service to AUT’s School of Science, and strong international research contribution.

The title of professor emeritus is given to a professor who is retiring from their role at AUT and has made an outstanding contribution to the research, curriculum development, and delivery that the University relies on.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Kath McPherson hosted a celebration last week to formally acknowledge Professor Towns as AUT’s newest professor emeritus.

In a career approaching 40 years of working in New Zealand environmental science, Professor Towns has made major contributions to three fields: ecology and taxonomy of freshwater mayflies; conservation of rare reptiles; and the restoration of island ecosystems. The latter has led to collaborations with iwi and community groups.

Upon joining AUT in 2012, Professor Towns’ priority was to develop an Applied Conservation major in the Bachelor of Science, and a specialisation in the Master of Science. He has also held various leadership positions including Head of Postgraduate Studies for the School of Science, and Programme Leader for Applied Conservation since its inception in 2016. He retired from AUT earlier this year.

“The University is honoured to have had Dave work with us over the last eight years. His expertise, leadership and commitment has transformed our School of Science, and through his teaching and supervision, he has inspired thousands of undergraduate and postgraduate students. We are delighted that he has accepted the honorary title of professor emeritus,” said Vice-Chancellor Derek McCormack.

Professor Towns has a strong research record, with well over 6,000 citations of his work. One such example is a paper that he published in 2006, which addressed the extent of damage that invasive rats cause on islands. To date, this paper has been cited over 500 times. Readings from his seminal works on pest eradication and restoration of islands are used in conservation classes in all New Zealand universities and in most conservation courses elsewhere in the world.

Professor Towns has been recognised with national honours for his work. In 2019 he was awarded the Charles Fleming Award for Environmental Achievement by the Royal Society Te Apārangi for his pioneering research in island ecosystem ecology and in conservation. This award honours those with distinction in the protection, maintenance, management, improvement and understanding of New Zealand’s environment. It is particularly prestigious as it is only awarded every three years.

One of Professor Towns’ most unique accolades would be that two species have been named after him; Oligosoma townsi, a rare lizard species confined to islands off the northern North Island; and a freshwater insect, Deleatidium townsi, a mayfly found in streams around the South Island.

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