News

Symposium on moult in tropical birds at International Ornithological Congress

Symposium on moult in tropical birds at International Ornithological Congress

Dr Gabriel Jamie and Dr Chima Nwaogu organised a symposium on “The ecology and evolution of moult in tropical birds” as part of the International Ornithological Congress. The symposium included a Round Table discussion as well as invited talks from a range of speakers including Dr Yahkat Barshep (A. P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute, Nigeria), Dr Barbara Helm (Swiss Ornithological Research Institute, Switzerland), Dr Oluwadunsin Adekola (FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, South Africa & Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria) and Dr Yosef Kiat (University of Haifa, Israel).

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Dr Gabriel Jamie speaks at European Society for Evolutionary Biology conference

Dr Gabriel Jamie speaks at European Society for Evolutionary Biology conference

Dr Gabriel Jamie was an invited speaker at the European Society for Evolutionary Biology conference in Prague, Czech Republic, as part of the symposium on “Repeated and Parallel Evolution in Adaptive Radiations. Gabriel spoke on “The persistence of polymorphisms across species radiations” building on work conducted together with Dr Joana Meier. To learn more about this research you can read their Trends in Ecology and Evolution paper here.

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Evolutionary Biology Crash Course

Evolutionary Biology Crash Course

Tanmay Dixit was a member of a team organising and lecturing in the inaugural Evolutionary Biology Crash Course. This course, aimed at undergraduate or early-postgraduate students, teaches evolutionary principles to students who have had limited opportunities to be exposed to evolutionary ideas. The course is funded by the Equal Opportunities Initiative Fund of the European Society of Evolutionary Biology (ESEB). Tanmay presented lectures on behavioural ecology and evolution, focussing on kin selection, coevolution, and parasitism. Over 700 students, with the vast majority from the global South, attended the course, which was a resounding success!

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New paper on visual complexity & mimicry

New paper on visual complexity & mimicry

Our paper “Visual complexity of egg patterns predicts egg rejection according to Weber’s Law” has just been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. This research was led by Tanmay Dixit, and carried out together with Andrei Apostol, Kuan-Chi Chen, Tony Fulford, Chris Town and Claire Spottiswoode, in a collaboration between biologists and computer scientists. We used machine learning to compute a biologically-relevant measure of egg pattern complexity, and combined this with field experiments in Zambia to investigate how complexity evolves in an arms race between host egg signatures (by tawny-flanked prinias) and parasitic egg forgeries (by cuckoo finches).

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Fieldwork and teaching at APLORI, Nigeria

Fieldwork and teaching at APLORI, Nigeria

Dr Gabriel Jamie is continuing his fieldwork on the evolution of polymorphisms in cisticolas and prinias in Nigeria, where he is also a teaching fellow at the AP Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI). The image shows the 2022 APLORI MSc class during the Global Birding Big Day on 14 May. The team recorded 135 species while walking around the nature reserve surrounding the institute.

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New paper on the genetics of cuckoo finch egg mimicry

New paper on the genetics of cuckoo finch egg mimicry

Our paper “Genetic architecture facilitates then constrains adaptation in a host-parasite coevolutionary arms race” has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. In it, we address the long-standing puzzle of how exquisite mimicry of the eggs of several different host species can evolve within a single species of brood-parasitic bird. We show that in cuckoo finches in Zambia, egg mimicry of different host egg phenotypes is maternally inherited, which allows mothers to transmit host-specific adaptations to their daughters irrespective of which host species the father was raised by. This study was a team effort from colleagues at the University of Cambridge and University of Cape Town (Claire Spottiswoode, Wenfei Tong, Gabriel Jamie), at Boston University (Katherine Stryjewski, Jeff DaCosta, Evan Kuras and Michael Sorenson) and in the Choma community in Zambia (Ailsa Green, Silky Hamama, Ian Taylor and Collins Moya).

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Rainy season 2022

Rainy season 2022

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,...

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Egg spoons and outreach in Cambridge

Egg spoons and outreach in Cambridge

A local Cambridge Brownie group (girls aged 7-10) spent a session with Mairenn Attwood, learning all about African cuckoos. Alongside discovering the tricks used by brood parasites, the Brownies also had a go at creating their own egg spoons. In the field, these are used to reach eggs in nests...

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Welcome to Cameron and Jonah

Welcome to Cameron and Jonah

Cameron Blair and Jonah Walker have joined the African Cuckoos team! Cameron previously did his BSc(Hons) project on the development of the guiding call of the greater honeyguide with the African Honeyguides team, and he has just started his MSc at the University of Cape Town, looking at how...

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Back for Dry Season 2021

Back for Dry Season 2021

The Dry Season team is back into the swing of things! Dr Chima Nwaogu began data collection for his fellowship project on breeding phenology, focusing on tchagras and dark-capped bulbuls in addition to historical egg collection records from the Choma area. Collins Moya and Silky Hamama are taking...

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New collaboration on bronze-winged coursers

New collaboration on bronze-winged coursers

Claire Spottiswoode and Jess Lund from the African Cuckoos team are collaborating on a new project tracking the movements of bronze-winged coursers. Together with Bart Kempenaers, Eunbi Kwon, and Mihai Valcu (Max Planck Institute for Ornithology), as well as fire ecologist Sally Archibald...

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New paper on embryonic movement in brood parasite chicks

New paper on embryonic movement in brood parasite chicks

Stephanie McClelland’s paper entitled “Embryo movement is more frequent in avian brood parasites than birds with parental reproductive strategies” has been published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.  Stephanie measured embryonic movement of brood parasites and their hosts at sites all over...

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Dr Gabriel Jamie awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship

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 patterns and colours found across...

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Brood parasites at ABS 2021 and Evolution 2021

Tanmay Dixit, Mairenn Attwood, and Jess Lund presented their work at the virtual Evolution 2021 Conference and the Animal Behavior Society 2021 Conference. Tanmay spoke about Weber’s law and egg signature complexity, Mairenn spoke about whether it benefits a parasite to parasitize aggressive...

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Honeyguides and cuckoos at the Virtual African Bird Fair

The African Bird Fair was virtual this year but still showcased some fascinating talks on African Ornithology! Jess Lund presented her MSc work on near-perfect mimicry by African cuckoos, and Cameron Blair presented his BSc(Hons) work on the development of greater honeyguide guiding calls....

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New paper published on Weber’s Law and mimicry

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

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

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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African Cuckoos team runs workshop on “Research Skills in Ecology & Evolution” at Copperbelt University, Zambia

African Cuckoos team runs workshop on “Research Skills in Ecology & Evolution” at Copperbelt University, Zambia

Our African Cuckoos research team have just finished running a two-week online workshop on “Research Skills in Ecology & Evolution” for over 30 participants consisting of graduate students and staff at Copperbelt University and Livingstone Museum in Zambia. The course was also attended by participants from the College of African Wildlife Management in Mweka, Tanzania.

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Dr Chima Nwaogu awarded British Ecological Society grant

Dr Chima Nwaogu awarded British Ecological Society grant

Congratulations to Dr Chima Nwaogu for his award of a British Ecological Society “Ecologists in Africa” grant to start his new programme of research in Zambia entitled “Why do Afrotropical birds breed when they do?”, based at the FitzPatrick Institute of Ornithology at the University of Cape Town. Thank you to the BES for this wonderful support!

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Congratulations, Jess

Congratulations, Jess

Jess’s MSc entitled “Coevolutionary causes and consequences of high-fidelity mimicry by a specialist brood parasite” was awarded with distinction. A massive thank you to the field team which made this work possible, the research group for all their discussion and assistance, and the two examiners...

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Outreach for British Science Week at local Cambridgeshire school

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

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

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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Vidua mimicry and speciation featured in Evolution

Vidua mimicry and speciation featured in Evolution

We’re delighted that the amazing diversity of estrildid finch chick phenotypes, many of which are mimicked by their indigobird and whydah brood parasites, was featured on the front cover of the November issue of Evolution.
As well as featuring our paper “Multimodal mimicry of hosts in a radiation of parasitic finches“, the issue also contains an insightful ‘Digest’ piece on our research by Renan Janke Bosque, Jente Ottenburghs, Cecília Rodrigues Vieira and Fabrícius Maia Chaves Bicalho Domingos. You can read it here: “The interplay between imprinting, mimicry, and multimodal signaling can lead to sympatric speciation“).

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Congratulations, Mairenn and Luke

Congratulations, Mairenn and Luke

Mairenn Attwood successfully passed her MPhil viva at the University of Cambridge, defending her thesis entitled “Angry birds: does it pay a cuckoo to parasitise a highly aggressive host?”, and Luke McClean successfully passed his PhD at the University of Cape Town entitled “Coevolution between brood-parasitic honeyguides and their hosts”. Congratulations Mairenn, congratulations Dr McClean! Thank you to all five thesis examiners for their insights, and to the field team that enabled both research projects. Mairenn will return to Cambridge and Zambia in 2021 to start her PhD on further fascinating aspects of fork-tailed drongos’ defences against their enemies.

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Dr Gabriel Jamie gives a talk on mimicry in parasitic finches at the African BirdFair

Dr Gabriel Jamie gives a talk on mimicry in parasitic finches at the African BirdFair

Dr Gabriel Jamie gave a talk on mimicry in the parasitic finches of Africa at Birdlife South Africa’s Virtual African Birdfair. Please also see Dr Jessica van der Wal’s talk on our sister research project on honeyguide-human mutualism (more information at www.AfricanHoneyguides.com) and many other great research talks by our colleagues at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. Also visit the amazing line-up of other talks at the Virtual African BirdFair, including a talk on bird art by the brilliant Faansie Peacock who has generously allowed us to use his illustrations in several of our scientific publications. Thank you BirdLife South Africa!

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Mairenn Attwood submits her MPhil thesis

Mairenn Attwood submits her MPhil thesis

Congratulations to Mairenn Attwood for successfully submitting her MPhil thesis at the University of Cambridge, entitled ‘Angry birds: does it pay a cuckoo to parasitise a highly aggressive host?’. In it, Mairenn asks whether high levels of aggression by fork-tailed drongos affect hawk mimicry by the African cuckoo, and whether it pays cuckoos to specialise on such aggressive hosts. An amazing feat of field experimental work in Zambia (in collaboration with Jess Lund), analysis and writing in just one year of research – well done Mairenn!

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Front cover of Trends in Ecology and Evolution

Front cover of Trends in Ecology and Evolution

Dr Gabriel Jamie and Dr Joana Meier’s paper on the persistence of polymorphisms across species radiations is on the front cover of the September issue of Trends in Ecology and Evolution. The cover image provides a specific example of the trans-species polymorphisms that the paper explores. Here, a polymorphism in shell chirality that recurs across multiple species of Amphidromus snails . Photos by Menno & Jan Schilthuizen. You can read the full article here: https://tinyurl.com/ycgdw4lu

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New paper on host-specific mimicry by indigobird and whydah chicks

New paper on host-specific mimicry by indigobird and whydah chicks

In a new paper published in Evolution, Dr Gabriel Jamie along with Silky Hamama, Collins Moya and Prof. Claire Spottiswoode from the African Cuckoos team and collaborators from University of Puerto Rico (Steven Van Belleghem), Princeton University (Dr Cassie Stoddard and Dr Ben Hogan) and University of Cambridge (Professor Rebecca Kilner) provide evidence of host-specific mimicry in the indigobirds and whydahs of Africa. Building on the pioneering work of Robert Payne and Jürgen Nicolai, they provide quantitative evidence that nestling Vidua finches mimic the patterns, colours and begging calls of their host’s nestling, and qualitative evidence of mimicry of host movements.

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Pick of the month in Trends in Ecology and Evolution

Pick of the month in Trends in Ecology and Evolution

Dr Gabriel Jamie and Dr Joana Meier’s paper “The Persistence of Polymorphisms across Species Radiations” has been selected by Trends in Ecology and Evolution as the journal Editor’s pick of the month. Read the full paper here: https://tinyurl.com/y29l4ygr

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Launching Honeyguiding.me for all bird enthusiasts in Africa!

Launching Honeyguiding.me for all bird enthusiasts in Africa!

Honeyguiding.me is a citizen science project for which we welcome all records of Greater Honeyguides anywhere in Africa. Visit our Honeyguiding.me project site in English, en français & em Português!
Please also follow the Honeyguide Research Project on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram @honeyguiding.

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AfricanHoneyguides – sister research project website now live

AfricanHoneyguides – sister research project website now live

Now live: a new website for our sister project at AfricanHoneyguides, sharing our research on the remarkable cooperative relationship between Greater Honeyguides and human honey-hunters (for information on the darker side of Greater Honeyguides, as brood parasites of other birds, see the Honeyguides page on this website).
A big thank you to Hennie Botha of Dumel Web Design, South Africa, for his beautiful design of both the AfricanHoneyguides and AfricanCuckoos websites.

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New review paper on polymorphisms and speciation

New review paper on polymorphisms and speciation

In a new paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Dr Gabriel Jamie and Dr Joana Meier explore the phenomenon that the same polymorphisms often recur in many members of a species radiation (e.g. colour/pattern morphs, heterostyly, mating types, shell chirality). This phenomenon is puzzling because...

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Congratulations Jess and Mairenn

Two of our team currently undertaking MSc research on interactions between African Cuckoos and their Fork-tailed Drongo hosts in Zambia have just been awarded PhD studentships to carry out their PhDs at the University of Cambridge – congratulations Mairenn Attwood and Jess Lund! And huge thanks to...

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A truncated but successful rainy season, including filming of indigobirds and whydahs for upcoming documentary

A truncated but successful rainy season, including filming of indigobirds and whydahs for upcoming documentary

Despite being truncated by the pandemic, Gabriel Jamie, Tanmay Dixit and Stephanie McClelland spent very successful couple of months in Zambia. A lot of nests were found, many by Sylvester Munkonko, Oliver Kashembe and Oscar Siankwasya, above, allowing Tanmay and Steph to collect very useful data. Gabriel successfully collected genetic samples that will be used to construct the reference genome of the Tawny-flanked Prinia. Gabriel also acted as scientific consultant for a BBC film crew making a documentary on the amazing indigobirds and whydahs at the field site. The crew were successfully able to get the desired footage and are hoping the film will come out in 2021. Watch this space!

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Luke hands in his PhD

Luke hands in his PhD

Congratulations to Luke McClean on submitting his PhD thesis at the University of Cape Town, entitled ‘Coevolution between brood-parasitic honeyguides and their hosts’, based on four years of fieldwork in Zambia from 2015 to 2018 – here he is setting up a nest camera in the field together with...

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A successful dry season of cuckoos

A successful dry season of cuckoos

The end of another productive field season! Mairenn Attwood and Jess Lund spent the past three months conducting experiments investigating how fork-tailed drongos defend themselves against parasitism by African cuckoos. Mairenn focused on drongo aggression as a defence, while Jess looked at their...

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EBird Big Day

As fieldwork overlapped with October Big Day, four of us – Collins, Silky, Mairenn and Jess – joined forces with other birders from Choma to record bird species in the area. Organised by the Cornell Lab, the day sees people around the world contribute to one global bird list. Just a few of over...

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Visiting Copperbelt University

Visiting Copperbelt University

Gabriel Jamie had an excellent visit to our collaborators Dr Moses Chibesa, Dr Ngawo Namukonde and Stanford Siachoono at Copperbelt University in Kitwe. Gabriel met with researchers and students in the Department of Zoology and Aquatic Sciences in the School of Natural Resources to discuss future...

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Welcome to Mairenn Attwood

Welcome to Mairenn Attwood

We are delighted to welcome Mairenn Attwood to our team, as she commences an MPhil at the University of Cambridge. Mairenn will be studying the curious resemblance of African cuckoos to Accipiter hawks, by presenting models at the nests of Fork-tailed drongos.

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Willow warblers and blood parasitism

Marjorie Sorensen and her international team of collaborators have just published a paper in Ecology and Evolution asking whether longer bird migrations are associated with increased blood parasitism, by exposing birds to a greater variety of parasites. Marjorie and team used stable isotopes to...

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Research team meet up in Cape Town

Research team meet up in Cape Town

Members of the research team from the University of Cambridge and the University of Cape Town meet up in Cape Town for an intense few days of planning our next research steps, accompanied by plenty of winter birdwatching and botanising. Here Jess, Tanmay, Luke, Claire and Mairenn attempt (with the...

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Another successful field season in the Zambian rainy season

Another successful field season in the Zambian rainy season

A successful season of fieldwork has seen the collection of more genetic samples from Tawny-flanked prinias by Gabriel Jamie, as well as egg rejection experiments conducted by Tanmay Dixit. Jess Lund continued experiments on the colouration of Cuckoo finch chicks, started in 2018 by Jana Riederer....

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Welcome to Jess Lund

Welcome to Jess Lund

Jess Lund has joined the team as an MSc student at the University of Cape Town. She is currently assisting with several projects in Zambia this wet season but will return to Cape Town soon to begin. Her project will focus on the coevolutionary consequences of host egg signatures in the fork-tailed...

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Tanmay and Claire visit collaborators in the USA

Tanmay and Claire visit collaborators in the USA

Tanmay Dixit and Claire Spottiswoode visited collaborators in the USA as part of developing questions for Tanmay’s PhD. Prof L. Mahadevan (Harvard University) and Dr Mary Caswell (Cassie) Stoddard (Princeton University) and their groups made them feel very welcome, and the thought-provoking and...

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Welcome (back) to Tanmay Dixit

Welcome (back) to Tanmay Dixit

Tanmay Dixit has commenced his PhD research on egg mimicry in the Cuckoo Finch and egg rejection behaviour by their hosts (family Cisticolidae). He plans to use approaches from applied mathematics, visual ecology and psychology to understand how hosts recognise eggs, and the implications for this...

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Luke’s final season of honeyguides

Luke McClean is back in the field for a final round of fieldwork as part of his PhD thesis examining interactions between honeyguides and their hosts. The focus for this field season will be gathering data to test whether honeyguide chicks can mimic the calls of an entire brood of hosts chicks,...

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New book chapter on begging call mimicry

New book chapter on begging call mimicry

Begging calls provide nestling brood parasites with a powerful and flexible tool for avoiding rejection, altering parental provisioning and competing with host nestmates. Despite much research into the topic, no synthesis of parasite vocal strategies for host manipulation has yet been made. In a...

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Birds choose nest sites that match their own camouflage

Animals that rely on camouflage can choose the best places to conceal themselves based on their individual appearance, our work in Zambia has found. Studying nine species of nightjar, plover and courser, we found that individual birds adjust their choices of where to nest based on their specific...

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New project on honeyguide-human mutualism, with gratitude to the ERC

New project on honeyguide-human mutualism, with gratitude to the ERC

Thanks to the wonderful support of a European Research Council Consolidator Grant, we are starting a new project on the evolution and ecology of the mutualistic relationship between honeyguides and human honey-hunters, working mainly in Mozambique, as well as Zambia, Tanzania, and elsewhere. New...

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How multiple species affect each other’s ever-evolving eggs

How multiple species affect each other’s ever-evolving eggs

Brood-parasitic birds lay eggs that mimic those of other species, to trick hosts into incubating their egg and raising their chick. Hosts often fight back by evolving egg colours and patterns that look different from those of their parasites, making an impostor easier to spot. In this study, we...

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A new framework for analysing mimicry in the natural world

A new framework for analysing mimicry in the natural world

Mimicry is responsible for some of the most striking adaptations found in nature. It occurs across a huge diversity of taxonomic groups and exploits all manner of sensory systems – from sight to sound to smell. Classic examples of mimicry include the close visual resemblance between the eggs of...

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New paper on migratory birds

New paper on migratory birds

The lives of migratory birds breeding in Europe and wintering in Africa south of the Sahara are governed by environmental conditions experienced thousands of kilometres apart. In this paper, Marjorie Sorensen cleverly measured isotopes and hormones deposited in growing feathers to track the...

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Honeyguides on BBC Radio 4

Honeyguides on BBC Radio 4

The BBC Radio 4 series "Natural Histories" is featuring honeyguides on 18 October (11h00 BST; repeat on 24 October at 21h00). On the programme, Claire Spottiswoode talks about our research on the Jekyll-and-Hyde lives of these intriguing birds – their brutal life as brood parasites of other birds...

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New field season underway in Zambia

The spring leaves are unfurling in Zambia's miombo woodlands at the end of the dry season, and birds are breeding. Assisted by our usual wonderful field team, Luke McClean is starting his MSc research at the University of Cape Town on honeyguide-host interactions (with a special focus on Lesser...

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New paper on honeyguide-human interactions

New paper on honeyguide-human interactions

In Mozambique, we've been studying the other side of honeyguide's lives: honeyguides are not only brutal brood parasites of other birds, but also the cooperative partners of human honey-hunters. In collaboration the Niassa Carnivore Project, we show that Yao honey-hunters in the Niassa National...

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New paper on nest camouflage

When should a ground-nesting bird, protected only by its own camouflage, flee its nest to save itself from an approaching predator? In this study we show that nesting nightjars, plovers and coursers in Zambia time their escape from a threat depending on how well camouflaged their eggs and their...

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New paper on range changes in hosts and brood parasites

New paper on range changes in hosts and brood parasites

Africa's vegetation is changing fast, owing to climate change and other results of human activities. How does this affect the distributions of interacting species such as brood parasites and their hosts? In this paper using data from the South African Bird Atlas Project, we show that parasites...

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Leverhulme studentship for Luke McClean

Leverhulme studentship for Luke McClean

Luke McClean has been awarded a two-year Leverhulme Study Abroad Studentship to carry out MSc research on coevolutionary interactions between lesser honeyguides and their hosts in Zambia, based at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town. Luke is a graduate...

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Breeding behaviour of an elusive bird

Breeding behaviour of an elusive bird

The streaky-breasted flufftail is a highly enigmatic and skulking tiny migratory rail species that lives in the flooded grassy 'dambos' of our Zambian study area. In a new article, Gabriel Jamie and our chief field assistants Collins Moya and Lazaro Hamusikili describe for the first time its...

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New paper on blood parasitism in wintering migrants in Zambia

Migratory birds breeding in Europe often have chronic malaria infections which are assumed to have been picked up on their wintering grounds in Africa. But we know little about their effects in Africa where it's assumed acute infections might occur. Dr Marjorie Sorensen studied willow warblers...

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New paper on why migrants sing

Why do many migratory bird species that breed in Europe sing extravagant songs on their wintering grounds in tropical Africa, thousands of miles away from where they attract their mates? Dr Marjorie Sorensen's PhD field research on great reed warblers (left) in Zambia points to an intriguing...

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New paper on nest camouflage

Camouflage is one of the most famous examples of adaptation in nature, but amazingly, it has proven surprisingly hard to show that it really works in the wild, as seen by the eyes of the appropriate predators. This study shows that natural nests in the wild in Zambia survive better when they're...

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Honeyguides on BBC2

Honeyguides on BBC2

Our Greater Honeyguides killing their Little Bee-eater hosts star in the 'Sex, Lies and Dirty Tricks' episode of BBC Natural History Unit's "World's Sneakiest Animals" TV series, presented by Chris Packham. The first broadcast is at 20h00 on 14 January 2015, on BBC Two. The Natural History Unit...

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How multiple species affect each other’s ever-evolving eggs

New paper on egg signatures

Host species of brood-parasitic birds can evolve features such as spots, squiggles and colours on their eggs that act like ‘signatures' that are difficult for parasites to forge, helping hosts to detect and reject imposter eggs. In this new paper, we show that hosts of cuckoo finches and diederik...

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New paper on aggressive mimicry

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...

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Leverhulme Fellowship for Nick Horrocks

Dr Nicholas Horrocks has been awarded a three-year Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship to continue working on our study systems in Zambia. Nick’s fellowship project is entitled "Phenotypic plasticity in reproductive investment in a rapidly changing world” and will focus on whether ground-nesting...

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New paper on honeyguide parasitism

New paper on honeyguide parasitism

Being parasitised by a greater honeyguide is very bad news for a host – the young honeyguide stabs the host's young to death with special bill hooks as soon as it hatches (more here). It's therefore puzzling that little bee-eater hosts seem not to recognise and eject honeyguide eggs from their...

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MoU signed with Copperbelt University

MoU signed with Copperbelt University

Exciting news for us is that our Memorandum of Understanding between Copperbelt University (in Kitwe, Zambia), the University of Cambridge (UK) and the University of Cape Town (South Africa) was signed by our respective heads of department. This MoU sets out our commitment to continue the very...

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Outreach in Zambia

Outreach in Zambia

Our research in Zambia is enabled by a brilliant team of local nest-finding assistants. Gabriel Jamie, Claire Spottiswoode and Collins Moya gave illustrated talks to share our past brood parasite research findings, and future plans, with them and their families living on our study area. Please see...

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African Cuckoos on BBC One

Our African Cuckoos and their Fork-tailed Drongo hosts star in the "Parenthood" episode of the BBC Natural History Unit's "Life Story" TV series, narrated by Sir David Attenborough. The broadcast is at 21h00 GMT on BBC One. The Natural History Unit team visited us in Zambia in September–October...

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Dr Lackson Chama visits UCT

Dr Lackson Chama visits UCT

We were very happy to welcome Dr Lackson Chama, from the Department of Zoology and Aquatic Sciences at Copperbelt University in Zambia, on a four-day visit to the University of Cape Town. Lackson gave seminars at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute and at Stellenbosch University on his research on the...

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New video on our camouflage work

New video on our camouflage work

Arran Frood from the BBSRC (our main funders) has made a lovely 13 minute video about our joint field research in Zambia and South Africa with Exeter University's Sensory Ecology and Evolution Group on the evolution of egg camouflage, narrated by Jolyon Troscianko: watch it below. Also see...

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Our research at ISBE 2014

Our research at ISBE 2014

Coming to the International Society for Behavioral Ecology conference in New York City from July 31st to August 5th? Five of us will be giving talks there about our research in Zambia (and in Claire's case, Mozambique): Marjorie Sorensen on 'Why do migratory birds sing in winter?' Claire...

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New migratory bird paper

New migratory bird paper

Why do migratory birds sing on their non-breeding grounds in Africa during the northern winter? It's long been assumed that they are defending individual non-breeding territories, but by means of field experiments and radio-tracking of Willow Warblers in the field in Zambia, PhD student Marjorie...

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New egg camouflage game

For the last three years we've been studying the evolution of nest camouflage in ground-nesting birds such as nightjars, plovers and coursers in the field in Zambia (and South Africa), in collaboration with Exeter University's Sensory Ecology Group. Play a new computer game online and by exerting...

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New field season

It's the rainy reason in the miombo woodlands of south-central Africa, and we're back in the field in Choma. Gabriel Jamie is kicking off his PhD research on the role of phenotypic plasticity in facilitating the amazing radiation of Vidua brood-parasitic finches and their hosts, and Wenfei...

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Perspectives on brood parasitism and cooperative breeding

Perspectives on brood parasitism and cooperative breeding

Naomi Langmore's team at the Australian National University have just published a wonderful paper in Science showing that brood parasitism may have been a significant force in the evolution of cooperative breeding in birds: see Feeney et al. (2014) Brood parasitism and the evolution of cooperative...

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New Cuckoo Finch paper

Cuckoo Finch eggs mimic those of their hosts, and the same Cuckoo Finch female commonly lays two or more eggs in the same host nest. In this paper we show that this increases her chances of tricking hosts into accepting the parasitic eggs as their own. By increasing the proportion of foreign eggs...

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New field season begins

New field season begins

It's spring in the miombo woodlands of south-central Africa, and we're back in the field in Choma. Nicholas Horrocks, Wenfei Tong and Claire Spottiswoode are just starting a new season of field experiments on honeyguides, and Jolyon Troscianko and Jared Wilson-Aggarwal are starting their second...

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New honeyguide paper published

Honeyguides and other brood parasitic birds are famous for tricking host parents by laying eggs that mimic their own. Honeyguide eggs mimic host eggs in size yet, surprisingly, bee-eater hosts are undiscriminating and readily accept mismatched eggs. This study shows that honeyguide egg size...

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