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

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

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

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

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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