Dr Robert Prys-Jones

Robert Prys-Jones
  • Collections Manager, Birds
  • Life Sciences department
  • Vertebrates Division
Natural History Museum at Tring
Akeman Street
HP23 6AP


Employment history

1992 - present     Bird Collections Manager, Department of Zoology, Natural History Museum

1987-1992           Head of Estuaries Unit, British Trust for Ornithology, Thetford, U.K.

1982-1987           Lecturer, Percy Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology, Department of  
                               Zoology, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

1980-1982           Research Fellow, Department of Biology, Stirling University, U.K.

1979-1980           Research Fellow, Department of Zoology, Queensland University, Australia.

1974-1978           Royal Society Research Assistant, Aldabra Research Station, Seychelles.         


1977:                    D.Phil., Avian Biology, Oxford University (Linacre College)

1970:                    B.Sc. (Hons), Zoology, Nottingham University


Curatorial Responsibilities

Responsible for all non-fossil bird collections in the Natural History Museum and for their associated staff. Organise and participate in the Bird Group collections management programme, the provision of access to the bird collections and the communication of information and advice concerning them. Undertake and supervise collections-based research aimed at developing techniques to improve the quality of data associated with museum specimens and, where necessary, to establish the reliability of existing specimen data.

Current special projects

  • Coordinating and supervising major programmes of improvements to the building fabric and infra-structure of the collections storage areas.
  • Coordinating and prioritising on-going programme of computer data-basing of NHM bird collections.
  • Development and application of techniques to improve specimen documentation, and detect fraud and misinformation, within museum bird collections.



Broad background in ornithological research. Main current research interests comprise:

  • Collections-related projects aimed at enhancing the information associated with museum specimens and detecting misinformation and fraud relating to them.
  • Understanding the evolutionary history of birds on the western Indian Ocean archipelagos.


Project: Enhancing the information associated with bird specimens

Main collaborators: Patricia Lee (University of Swansea), Joanne Cooper (NHM Bird Group), Earl of Cranbrook

Objectives: 1) Develop and make use of molecular techniques that improve reliability of identification of specimens, notably eggs, and sexing of specimens; 2) Use archival and other research to enhance the documentation associated with specimens and understanding of their collectors' motivation and developing knowledge.


Project: Detection of misinformation and fraud associated with bird specimens

Main collaborators: Pamela Rasmussen (Michigan State University Museum), Nigel Collar (BirdLife International)

Objectives: The scientific value of specimens is largely dependent on the reliability of the information associated with them. Within the NHM bird collections, detailed research has revealed large-scale and deliberate misinformation associated with the important bird skin collection of Richard Meinertzhagen. Detailed and wide-ranging research focusing on his Asian bird specimens is being used to develop and apply techniques both to reveal the scope of the problem and, in some instances, to restore original data with a high degree of confidence. A monograph on this is currently in preparation.


Project: Evolution and extinction of birds on the western Indian Ocean archipelagos

Main collaborators: Julian Hume (NHM Bird Group Scientific Associate), Jim Groombridge (University of Kent), Ben Warren (University of Réunion), Christophe Thébaud (University of Toulouse)

Objectives: 1) Use of morphological and molecular techniques to reconstruct the evolutionary history of bird genera and families that have radiated across the western Indian Ocean archipelagos; 2) Use of paleontological and archival information to document recent extinctions of birds on the different islands and attempt, where information is sufficient, to reconstruct the avifaunas prior to human arrival.


Selected Recent Publications

  • Bristol R, Tucker R, Dawson D, Horsburgh G, Prys-Jones R, Frantz A, Krupa A, Shah N, Burke T & Groombridge J ( 2013 ) Comparison of historical bottleneck effects and genetic consequences of reintroduction in a critically endangered island passerine. Molecular Ecology 22 : 4644-4662 .
  • Collar N J & Prys-Jones R P ( 2013 ) Pioneer of Asian Ornithology: Alfred Russel Wallace. BirdingASIA 20 : 15-29 .
  • Collar N J & Prys-Jones R P ( 2012 ) Pioneer of Asian ornithology: Allan Octavian Hume BirdingASIA 17 : 17-43 .
  • Hill A W, Guralnick R, Smith A M, Sallans R, Gillespie R G, Denslow M W, Gross J, Murrell Z, Conyers T, Oboyski P, Ball J, Thomer A, Prys-Jones R P, de la Torre J, Kociolek P & Fortson L F ( 2012 ) The notes from nature tool for unlocking biodiversity records from museum records through citizen science. ZooKeys 209 : 219-233 .
  • Kundu S, Jones C G, Prys-Jones R P and Groombridge J J ( 2012 ) The evolution of the Indian Ocean parrots (Psittaciformes): extinction, adaptive radiation and eustacy. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 62 : 296-305 .
  • Parades U M, Prys-Jones R, Adams M, Groombridge J, Kundu S, Agapow P & Abel R L ( 2012 ) Micro-CT x-rays do not fragment DNA in preserved bird skins. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 50 : 247-250 .
  • Warren B H, Bermingham E, Bourgeois Y, Estep L K, Prys-Jones R P, Strasberg D and Thebaud C ( 2012 ) Hybridization and barriers to gene flow in an island bird radiation. Evolution 66 : 1490-1505 .
  • Zuccon D, Prys-Jones R, Rasmussen P C and Ericson P G P ( 2012 ) The phylogenetic relationships and generic limits of finches (Fringillidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 62 : 581-596 .
  • Graves G R and Prys-Jones R P ( 2011 ) Rediscovery of the holotype of Trochilus maria Gosse, 1849 (Aves: Apodiformes: Trochilidae). Zootaxa 2929 : 59-63 .
  • Prys-Jones R ( 2011 ) Obituary - Beryl Patricia Hall (nee Woodhouse), 1917-2010. Ibis 153 : 913-914 .
  • Prys-Jones R ( 2011 ) Type specimens of the Imperial Woodpecker Campephilus imperialis (Gould, 1832). Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 131 : 256-260 .
  • Prys-Jones R and Cleere N ( 2010 ) The type specimen of Bonin Grosbeak Chaunoproctus ferreorostris. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 130 : 230 .
  • Svensson L, Prys-Jones R, Rasmussen P C and Olsson U ( 2010 ) The identification and distribution of the enigmatic Large-billed Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orinus. Ibis 152 : 323-334 .
  • Warren B H, Strasberg D, Bruggemann J H, Prys-Jones R P and Thébaud C ( 2010 ) Why does the biota of the Madagascar region have such a strong Asiatic flavour? Cladistics 26 : 526-538 .
  • Groombridge D D, Dawson D A, Burke T A, Prys-Jones R P, Brooke M de L and Shah N ( 2009 ) Evaluating the demographic history of the Seychelles Kestrel (Falco araea): genetic evidence for recovery from a population bottleneck following minimal conservation management Biological Conservation 142 : 2250-2257 .
  • Prys-Jones R ( 2009 ) Obituary - David William Snow (1924-2009) British Birds 102 : 394-396 .
  • Prys-Jones R P,  Brooks D M and Arnold K A ( 2009 ) A second specimen of Sabine’s Gull Xema sabini from Texas, with a review of Meinertzhagen-generated confusion surrounding the first. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 129 : 202-205 .
  • Salaman P, Donegan T and Prys-Jones R ( 2009 ) A new subspecies of Brown-banded Antpitta Grallaria milleri from Antioquia, Colombia Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 129 : 5-18 .
  • Bantock T M, Prys-Jones R P and Lee P L M ( 2008 ) New and improved molecular sexing mechanisms for museum bird specimens Molecular Ecology Resources 8 : 519-528 .
  • Lee P L M and Prys-Jones R P ( 2008 ) Extracting DNA from museum bird eggs, and whole genome amplification of archive DNA Molecular Ecology Resources 8 : 551-560 .
  • Prys-Jones R, Fuisz T and Willard D ( 2008 ) An unfortunate and neglected collector of African birds, O. Faczanyi (Ed.), In: Commemoration for Kalman Kittenberger: Memorial Meeting in the Hungarian Academy of Sciences . Orszagos Magyar Vadaszkamara : Budapest , 59-80 .
  • Svensson L, Prys-Jones R, Rasmussen P C and Olsson U ( 2008 ) Discovery of ten new specimens of Large-billed Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orinus, and new insights into its distributional range Journal of Avian Biology 39 : 605-610 .
  • Kennerley P R and Prys-Jones R P ( 2006 ) Occurrences of Gray's Grasshopper Warbler in Europe, including a further case of Meinertzhagen fraud British Birds 99 : 506-516 .
  • Prys-Jones R P ( 2006 ) The 1885 Greenland breeding record of Ross's Gull British Birds 99 : 208-210 .
  • Warren B H, Bermingham E, Prys-Jones R P and Thebaud C ( 2006 ) Immigration, species radiation and extinction in a highly diverse songbird lineage: white-eyes on Indian Ocean islands Molecular Ecology 15 : 3769-3786 .
  • Cranbrook, Earl of, Hills D M, McCarthy C J and Prys-Jones R ( 2005 ) A.R. Wallace, collector: tracing his vertebrate specimens. Part 1., A.A. Tuen and I. Das (Eds), In: Wallace in Sarawak - 150 years later . Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak : Sarawak , 8-34 .
  • Hume J P and Prys-Jones R P ( 2005 ) New discoveries from old sources, with reference to the original bird and mammal fauna of the Mascarene Islands, Indian Ocean Zoologische Mededelingen Leiden 79-3 : 85-95 .
  • Warren B H, Bermingham E, Prys-Jones R P and Thebaud C ( 2005 ) Tracking island colonization history and phenotypic shifts in Indian Ocean bulbuls (Hypsipetes: Pycnonotidae) Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 85 : 271-287 .
  • Rasmussen P C and Prys-Jones R P ( 2003 ) History vs mystery: the reliability of museum specimen data Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 123A : 66-94 .
  • Warren B H, Bermingham E, Bowie R C K, Prys-Jones R P and Thebaud C ( 2003 ) Molecular phylogeography reveals island colonization history and diversification of western Indian Ocean sunbirds (Nectarinia: Nectariniidae) Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 29 : 67-85 .