Dr Gabriel Jamie presents webinar on Africa’s brood-parasitic birds for BirdLife South Africa

May 12, 2021

Dr Gabriel Jamie gave a webinar titled: “Africa’s Avian Cheats: Exploring the deceitful ways of cuckoos, honeyguides and parasitic finches”. The talk was part of BirdLife South Africa’s Conservation Conversation series and explores the amazing world of brood-parasitic birds in Africa. You can watch a recording of the talk here:  https://youtu.be/7fesIIK2_Wk

Brood parasites are species that forego their parental duties. Instead lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and force them to rear their young. Africa is the continent with the greatest diversity of brood-parasitic birds on Earth. This includes many species of cuckoo, honeyguide and parasitic finch. Whilst all these birds face the common challenge of sneaking their eggs into the nests of another bird unnoticed and getting that bird to feed a foreign nestling, the solutions they have reached are extremely varied. These brood-parasites are entirely dependent on a small number of host species for their survival and their conservation is therefore intimately connected to the fate of their hosts. Conversely, host populations can be severely impacted by parasitism especially when host species are already endangered for other reasons. In this talk, Gabriel showcased some of the diverse strategies developed by the brood parasites of Africa to trick and exploit their hosts. He also highlighted the conservation implications of such interactions and show how a detailed knowledge of these birds’ breeding biologies is essential to conserving them.

African cuckoo


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...

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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. 

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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.

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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!

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