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, Principal Research Associate 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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