Welcome to African Cuckoos

Adaptation, mimicry and co-evolution in Africa’s avian cheats: cuckoo finches, honeyguides, indigobirds & cuckoos.

Brood parasites are the cheats of the bird world. They exploit the parental care of other species (their hosts) to raise their young. Hosts suffer if they are successfully tricked by a brood parasite, because brood-parasitic chicks monopolise access to food provided by host parents, and some species actively kill the host’s eggs and chicks.

This conflict between brood parasites and their hosts has led to some of the most beautiful examples of adaptation seen in nature. They also provide ideal study systems for field research on coevolution – the process by which two or more species affect each other’s evolution. As the brood parasite adapts to better exploit the host, the host often evolves counter-adaptations to better defend itself against the parasite.

We are a group of evolutionary biologists studying brood parasites (and other interesting birds) in the field in Choma, Zambia, since 2006, based jointly in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge in the UK, and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

The project is led by Prof. Claire Spottiswoode, BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellow and Hans Gadow Lecturer at the University of Cambridge, and Pola Pasvolsky Chair in Conservation Biology at the University of Cape Town, and is co-led by Dr Gabriel Jamie, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge and a research associate at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town.

In Zambia, we also work with colleagues at the Livingstone Museum, the Department of Zoology and Aquatic Sciences at Copperbelt University, and (forthcoming in 2021) Choma Museum, in collaborative research, public outreach, and capacity-building.

On this website you can find out more about our work, the brood parasites and other interesting birds we study, see photos of our fieldwork, and read a bit about who we are, what we’ve written, and who supports our work.

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News

Dr Gabriel Jamie gives a talk on mimicry in parasitic finches at the African BirdFair

Dr Gabriel Jamie gave a talk on mimicry in the parasitic finches of Africa at Birdlife South Africa’s Virtual African Birdfair. Please also see Dr Jessica van der Wal’s talk on our sister research project on honeyguide-human mutualism (more information at www.AfricanHoneyguides.com) and many other great research talks by our colleagues at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. Also visit the amazing line-up of other talks at the Virtual African BirdFair, including a talk on bird art by the brilliant Faansie Peacock who has generously allowed us to use his illustrations in several of our scientific publications. Thank you BirdLife South Africa!

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Mairenn Attwood submits her MPhil thesis

Congratulations to Mairenn Attwood for successfully submitting her MPhil thesis at the University of Cambridge, entitled ‘Angry birds: does it pay a cuckoo to parasitise a highly aggressive host?’. In it, Mairenn asks whether high levels of aggression by fork-tailed drongos affect hawk mimicry by the African cuckoo, and whether it pays cuckoos to specialise on such aggressive hosts. An amazing feat of field experimental work in Zambia (in collaboration with Jess Lund), analysis and writing in just one year of research – well done Mairenn!

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Front cover of Trends in Ecology and Evolution

Dr Gabriel Jamie and Dr Joana Meier’s paper on the persistence of polymorphisms across species radiations is on the front cover of the September issue of Trends in Ecology and Evolution. The cover image provides a specific example of the trans-species polymorphisms that the paper explores. Here, a polymorphism in shell chirality that recurs across multiple species of Amphidromus snails . Photos by Menno & Jan Schilthuizen. You can read the full article here: https://tinyurl.com/ycgdw4lu

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Supported By:

The-Leverhulme-Trust
BBSRC
LOreal-UNESCO-For-Women-in-Science
Percy-FitzPatrick-Institute
The-Royal-Society
Marie-Curie-Actions
BBSRC
The-Leverhulme-Trust
The-Royal-Society
Percy-FitzPatrick-Institute
LOreal-UNESCO-For-Women-in-Science
Marie-Curie-Actions