Rainy season 2022

Apr 2, 2022

Cuckoo finch egg in a zitting cisticola clutch

A fruitful 2022 rainy season of fieldwork is underway! Gabriel Jamie, Maggie Mwale, Cameron Blair and Jonah Walker travelled to Choma in February to reunite with Collins Moya, Silky Hamama, and all our Zambian colleagues, to carry on the wet-season projects which were cut short by Covid in 2020, and to begin exciting new lines of investigation.

Gabriel continued his Leverhulme Fellowship work investigating the genomics of polymorphisms across a wide range of species and working together with Maggie who was also collecting nests for the Livingstone Museum’s collections and an upcoming exhibition.

Cameron assisted with collecting data for Tanmay Dixit’s PhD by conducting egg-rejection experiments in the nests of tawny-flanked prinias and several cisticolas – the host species of cuckoo finches.

Jonah meanwhile has begun the field component of his project. He is quantifying the thermal and light environment of host nests and running thermal trials to determine the heating rate of eggs of different colours and patterning. Not everything has gone to plan, of course. Host parents were, perhaps unsurprisingly, unimpressed by the thin thermistor probes we placed in their nests — with one pair snapping the wire off and weaving it into their nest!

Collins and Silky, alongside supporting all this work, kept Chima Nwaogu’s long-term insect survey going. Now running for six months and counting, we look forward to seeing the outcome of this study, especially as it heads into the poorly-characterised cold season in Choma.

A huge thank you as ever goes to our colleagues in the field who made the work possible and so enjoyable!


New paper on imperfect egg mimicry

Our paper “Combined measures of mimetic fidelity explain imperfect mimicry in a brood parasite-host system” has just been published in the journal Biology Letters. This study was led by Tanmay Dixit, and carried out together with Gary Choi, Salem al-Mosleh, Jess Lund, Jolyon Troscianko, Collins Moya, L Mahadevan, and Claire Spottiswoode, as part of a collaboration between our group and Prof. Mahadevan and his lab at Harvard University. Together we combined mathematical tools and field experiments in Zambia to quantify a key difference – “squiggle” markings – between the eggs of hosts (tawny-flanked prinias) and parasites (cuckoo finches). We showed that suboptimal behaviour on the part of prinias allows cuckoo finches to get by with an imperfect copy of prinia eggs.

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New paper on host aggression and hawk mimicry

Our paper “Aggressive hosts are undeterred by a cuckoo’s hawk mimicry, but probably make good foster parents” has just been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In the paper, we investigate the costs and benefits to the African cuckoo of specializing on a highly aggressive host species, the fork-tailed drongo.

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African Cuckoos Team at the Pan-African Ornithological Congress

The African Cuckoos Team had a fantastic time at the Pan-African Ornithological Congress (PAOC15), this year held in Vic Falls, Zimbabwe. Dr Chima Nwaogu gave a plenary talk on “Differing Priorities in the Timing of Annual Life History Events”, while Professor Claire Spottiswoode and Silky Hamama presented during a roundtable session on communities in conservation and research. Silky also presented a poster, with Claire, Jess Lund, Mairenn Attwood and Cameron Blair each giving research talks as well. 

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