Thanks

We are hugely indebted to many individuals and organisations who very generously support our work in Zambia :

Choma community

In addition to our crucial team of nest-finders, all our work relies totally on the support of the wonderful farming community of the Choma district:

IanEmma and Mel Bruce-Miller of Nansai and Muckleneuk Farms have been our home base for over a decade and, together with their brilliant staff, have made everything possible. We are also very grateful to Molly and Archie Greenshields for giving us a home in the miombo woodlands.

Our main study area comprises several private farms owned by Richard and Vicki Duckett, John Musonda, Troy and Elizabeth Nicolle, Ackson Sejani, and the nuns of MaSistah, who very generously give us free access to their land.

Our many other friends in Zambia have helped in countless ways, and we’re especially grateful to the AstonBell-Cross, Chance, Counsell, Danckwerts, FisherGreen, Kirkpatrick, Naik, Nyman-Jørgensen, RossTaylor and Willems families.

Special thanks to two heroes: Ian Taylor who built our predator-proofed aviaries, and Ailsa Green who pioneered cuckoo finch hand-rearing.

Further afield in Zambia (and now beyond), Zambian birders Pete LeonardLizanne Roxburgh and Chris Wood all helped greatly in various ways during the early stages of the project. Lizanne studied Zambian Barbets (the species in the header image above) in the Choma area for several years. The Bruce-Miller farm is the best place in the world to see this threatened species, which is endemic to Zambia and is (alas for it) a host species of the Lesser Honeyguide.

 

Major John Colebrook-Robjent

Major John Colebrook-Robjent

Major John Colebrook-Robjent (1935–2008) was one of the twentieth century’s greatest oologists, as well as a tobacco farmer on Musumanene Farm, Choma, for 40 years. His fascination with brood parasites laid the basis for all our current studies, and he first introduced Claire Spottiswoode to Choma’s intriguing array of avian cheats. His vast and beautifully documented egg collection remains a remarkable resource for research on coevolution and many other subjects. His farm, Musumanene, is now owned by Troy and Elizabeth Nicolle and much of our fieldwork still takes place here.

The photo at right was taken in 2005 when John visited the Natural History Museum in Tring. He is holding the type (and only) specimen of the White-chested Tinkerbird Pogoniulus makawai, discovered in north-western Zambia by John’s old friend Jali Makawa with whom he worked in Madagascar in the 1960s.

More information about John can be found in an obituary written by Pete Leonard published in the Bulletin of the African Bird Club, and in the book The Running Sky written by Tim Dee (Claire’s husband).

Copperbelt University

We are very grateful for the kindness and support of Dr Moses Chibesa, Ngawo Namukonde, Stanford Siachoono, Dr Lackson Chama and their teams in the Department of Zoology and Aquatic Sciences at Copperbelt University in Kitwe, Zambia. Copperbelt University, the University of Cambridge and the University of Cape Town signed a three-way Memorandum of Understanding in 2015 (see News item here).

 

 

Department of National Parks and Wildlife, Zambia

The Department of National Parks and Wildlife (formerly Zambia Wildlife Authority) have warmly supported our work from the outset and we’re grateful for their kind provision of research permits and interest in our work.

Funders

Our work has been or is currently funded by all these generous and supportive organisations:

News

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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