New paper on aggressive mimicry

Jun 10, 2015

In a new paper we show experimentally that adult female cuckoo finches (at left in photo) in Zambia have evolved to resemble harmless and abundant bishop-birds (right), which should help them to slip past being attacked by host parents while they try to lay their egg. However, hosts are not fooled by this attempted deception, and defend themselves against parasitic cuckoo finches and harmless bishop-birds alike. To our knowledge this is the first time that such “wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing” plumage mimicry has been experimentally shown to exist in any adult bird. The paper is by Will FeeneyJolyon TrosciankoNaomi Langmore and Claire Spottiswoode, and is available open access in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B.

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Outreach for British Science Week at local Cambridgeshire school

During this year’s British Science Week, we’ve been engaging with local school children in Cambridgeshire. Mairenn Attwood led interactive talks at the Thomas Clarkson Academy in Wisbech,  a school partnered with ‘Teach First’ (a charity aimed at reducing educational inequality).

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New scientific paper on the “Limits to host colonization and speciation” published

Our paper “Limits to host colonization and speciation in a radiation of parasitic finches” has just been published in the journal Behavioral Ecology. In this study, led by Dr Gabriel Jamie, we explored the factors which limited the colonisation of new hosts by brood-parasitic Vidua finches. Speciation in these birds is closely connected with the colonisation of new hosts. Therefore, if we can understand what limits this process, we can understand what has limited the diversification of this radiation.

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Parasitic finches featured in new documentary “Attenborough’s Life in Colour” on BBC One

The amazing mimicry shown by nestling Pin-tailed Whydahs of their Common Waxbill hosts is showcased in David Attenborough’s Life in Colour the latest natural history documentary on BBC One. Filming of this sequence by Nick Green and Max Hug Williams of Humble Bee Films took place at our field site in Choma, Zambia, with Dr Gabriel Jamie acting as scientific consultant and contributing sound recordings.

You can watch the sequence in Episode 2: “Hiding in Colour” on BBC iPlayer.

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