Philip Ashmole

Nelson Philip Ashmole (born 11 January 1934 in Amersham, Buckinghamshire[1]), commonly known as Philip Ashmole, is an English zoologist and conservationist. His main research field focused on the avifauna of islands, including Saint Helena, Ascension Island, Tenerife, the Azores, and Kiritimati. Other interests include insects and spiders, of which Ashmole discovered and described some new taxa.


In 1957, Ashmole graduated to Bachelor of Arts in Zoology at Brasenose College in Oxford. In the same year he became a research student at the Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology (EGI) and accompanied the scientists' couple Bernard and Sally Stonehouse and the ornithologist Doug Dorward on a two-year expedition of the British Ornithologists' Union to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. Ashmole studied here the breeding and moult cycles of terns, which he wrote about in his Oxford doctoral thesis, entitled The Biology of Certain Terns: With Special Reference to Black Noddy Anous tenuirostris and the Wideawake Sterna fuscata on Ascension Island.[2] In 1960, Ashmole married Myrtle Jane Goodacre,[1] whom he met at a students' conference in 1957. Myrtle Goodacre worked as researcher and librarian at the EGI[2] and became Ashmole's collaborator in many research projects. The couple has one son and two daughters.[1]

Postdoctoral Ashmole worked as demonstrator at the University of Oxford in 1960. He also was active as a research officer at the EGI until 1963. Through the mediation of David Lack, who worked with G. Evelyn Hutchinson at the EGI, Ashmole received a summer research fellowship at the Peabody Museum of Yale University. Subsequently, the Ashmoles spent a year in Hawaii on a Yale fellowship at the Bernice P. Bishop Museum from where they studied feeding ecology and breeding cycles of terns and other seabirds on Kiritimati, as well as trying to assess the effects of nuclear weapons testing on sea birds. Subsequently, Ashmole served as assistant and associate professor at Yale University, where he did research work until 1972. From 1972 to 1992 he held the post of lecturer and senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh.[2]

Ashmole collected subfossil material of extinct bird species, including the Saint Helena hoopoe,[3] the Ascension night heron[4] and the Ascension crake.[4] During a month-long research period on fossil birds on Saint Helena in 1959, Ashmole and his colleague Doug Dorward discovered the forceps pincers of the Saint Helena earwig, a species which was rediscovered in 1965 for a short term.

Philip and Myrtle Ashmole are also active in the nature conservation movement. Most notable is the restoration of Carrifran Wildwood in the Southern Uplands of Scotland.[2] For that and other projects the Ashmoles helped to found the Borders Forest Trust, an environmental charity, in 1996, of which Philip Ashmole has been a long-serving trustee.

In 2015, Philip and Myrtle Ashmole received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the RSPB Nature of Scotland Awards.[5]

Ashmole's haloEdit

Ashmole's work on Ascension Island led him to propose a hypothesis about how large concentrations of seabirds might be able to deplete forage fish resources in the vicinity of their breeding colonies, creating a zone of reduced food availability that would influence foraging and breeding success and behaviour.[6] This zone was later termed "Ashmole's halo" by other researchers.[7] The concept has since been widely used in ecological studies of seabirds, and found to apply in varying degrees to many different species and ecological regions.[8]

Works (selected)Edit

  • P. Ashmole, M. Ashmole: Comparative Feeding Ecology of Sea Birds of a Tropical Oceanic Island. Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University, 1967
  • M. Ashmole, P. Ashmole: Natural history excursions in Tenerife: A guide to the countryside, plants and animals. Kidston Mill Press, 1989. ISBN 0951454404
  • P. Ashmole, M. Ashmole: St. Helena and Ascension Island: a natural history. Anthony Nelson, Oswestry, 2000. ISBN 0904614611
  • M. Ashmole, P. Ashmole: The Carrifran Wildwood Story: Ecological Restoration from the Grass Roots, Borders Forest Trust, 2009. ISBN 0953434648
  • P. Ashmole, M. Ashmole: Natural History of Tenerife, Whittles Publishing, Dunbeath, 2016. ISBN 978-184995-225-5


  1. ^ a b c Men of Achievement, p. 33, 15th Edition 93–94, Taylor & Francis, 1993. ISBN 0948875755.
  2. ^ a b c d Ted Anderson: The Life of David Lack: Father of Evolutionary Ecology, p 167, Oxford University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0199922642
  3. ^ Storrs L. Olson. (1975). Paleornithology of St Helena Island, south Atlantic Ocean. Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology 23.
  4. ^ a b Bourne, W. R. P., Ashmole, N. P. & Simmons K. E. L.: A new subfossil night heron and a new genus for the extinct rail from Ascension Island, central tropical Atlantic Ocean. Ardea 91, issue 1, 2003: p. 45-51
  5. ^ RSPB Nature of Scotland Awards: List of Winners
  6. ^ Ashmole, N. P. (1963). "The regulation of numbers of tropical oceanic birds". Ibis. 103 (3): 458–473. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919x.1963.tb06766.x.
  7. ^ Birt, V. L.; Birt, T. P.; Goulet, D.; Cairns, D. K.; Montevecchi, W. A. (1987). "Ashmole's halo: direct evidence for prey depletion by a seabird". Marine Ecology Progress Series. 40 (3): 205–208. doi:10.3354/meps040205.
  8. ^ Gaston, A. J.; Ydenberg, R. C.; Smith, G. J. (2007). "Ashmole's halo and population regulation in seabirds". Marine Ornithology. 35 (2): 119–126.

External linksEdit