Special Issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society on brood parasitism

Feb 25, 2019

Special Issue Cover

The coevolutionary biology of brood parasitism: from mechanism to pattern’ is a theme issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, co-edited by Claire together with Steve Portugal, Ros Gloag and Rose Thorogood – read on for 16 papers on some of the most fascinating animals you’ll meet! These include papers from our team on higher-level pattern signatures as defences in host eggs; reduced eggshell conductance as an adaptation to brood parasitism; and what egg signatures and immune systems have in common.

The formal summary of the special issue:

“Obligate brood parasitic cheats have fascinated natural historians since ancient times. Passing on the costs of parental care to others occurs widely in birds, insects, and fish, and often exerts selection pressure on hosts which in turn evolve defences. Brood parasites have therefore provided an illuminating system for researching coevolution. Nevertheless, we lack a comprehensive understanding of how ecology and evolutionary history constrain or facilitate these adaptations, via the mechanisms that shape or respond to selection. In this theme issue we bring together examples from across the animal kingdom to illustrate the diverse ways in which recent research is addressing this gap. First it presents examples of recent developments in methodology that are providing greater insight into the mechanisms used by brood parasitic birds and insects to fool hosts, and the exciting possibilities afforded by new study systems. The issue then explores the diversity and predictability of coevolution between brood parasites and hosts to shed light on how brood parasites evolve. Finally, it takes a more expansive view of brood parasitism research to ask how this topic can be informed by, and contribute to, our understanding of social evolution in general.”

News

Dr Gabriel Jamie awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship

Dr Gabriel Jamie has been awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship based at University of Cambridge. For the fellowship Gabriel will build on his previous work on brood parasitism and the evolution of polymorphisms to understand the incredible diversity of egg...

read more

New paper published on Weber’s Law and mimicry

Our paper ‘Why and how to apply Weber’s Law to coevolution and mimicry’ has been published in the journal Evolution. This perspectives paper, written by Tanmay Dixit, Eleanor Caves, Claire Spottiswoode, and Nicholas Horrocks, argues that Weber’s Law of proportional processing can lead to otherwise counterintuitive predictions about the evolutionary trajectories of mimicry systems.  Weber’s Law states that when the magnitude of a stimulus is large, it is more difficult to discriminate a change or difference from that stimulus. In other words, relative differences are more salient than absolute differences. We show that Weber’s Law could have implications for mimicry: when stimulus magnitudes are high, it should be more difficult to discriminate a model from a mimic. This leads to testable predictions about evolutionary trajectories of models and mimics. We also present a framework for testing Weber’s Law and its implications for coevolution. 

read more

New paper on evolution of egg signatures

Our paper “Hosts elevate either within-clutch consistency or between-clutch distinctiveness of egg phenotypes in defence against brood parasites” has just been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. In this study, led by Eleanor Caves, we asked how host eggs evolve adaptations that allow them better to discriminate their own eggs from parasitic eggs. Theoretically, hosts can generate their own individually-distinctive egg ‘signatures’ by laying eggs that appear similar to one another (consistency) but look very different from other individuals’ eggs (distinctiveness). In this new study, we show that host species of two African brood parasites deploy either consistency or distinctiveness, but not both, as defences, and achieve distinctiveness by combining egg colours and patterns in unpredictable combinations.

read more

Mairenn Attwood awarded Cambridge teaching prize

Congratulations to Mairenn Attwood for being awarded the Janet Moore Prize for teaching in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge, for her outstanding tutorial supervision of final-year undergraduate students, who praised her breadth and depth of knowledge, enthusiasm, and friendliness.  Mairenn follows in the footsteps of Tanmay Dixit who was awarded the Janet Moore Prize in 2020. Well done both for inspiring the next generation of behavioural ecologists!

read more