The Team

There are several of us who do all our fieldwork in Zambia, and we also collaborate with people further afield. Everything we do in Zambia relies on the help of a brilliant team of field assistants, who make all our experiments possible for us.

Zambia team

Mairenn Collins Attwood

Mairenn Attwood

MPhil student (PhD student from 2021), University of Cambridge

Mairenn is researching the ways in which host aggression affect the co-evolution of African cuckoos and fork-tailed drongos. She is using model presentations in her fieldwork to quantify variation in drongo aggression, both between individuals and in response to different stimuli. Read more here…

Tanmay Dixit

PhD student, University of Cambridge

Tanmay is working on the evolution of host egg signatures and their cuckoo finch forgeries, using a combination of field experiments and mathematical modelling. He is particularly interested in the optimality of signatures and forgeries, and whether birds behave as logically (or otherwise) as we humans would do in their place. Read more here…

Silky Hamama

Silky Hamama

Chief fieldworker, Choma team

Silky has been working with us since 2012. Hailing from Sinazongwe close to Lake Kariba, Silky moved to Choma at a young age. He initially worked with us hand-rearing nestling Cuckoo Finches and looking after our aviaries and, since 2015, has also helped to manage the field team, check experiments, collect samples, catch birds in mist nets, and position nest cameras.

Lazaro Hamusikili

Lazaro Hamusikili

Chief fieldworker, Choma team

Lazaro is an ornithological legend. He has over thirty years experience of Zambian field ornithology, since he was Major John Colebrook-Robjent’s main ornithological assistant since the early 1980s. He has a prodigious knowledge of Zambian birds and their breeding ecology, and is a skilled preparator of museum skins.

Nick Horrocks

Dr Nicholas Horrocks

Research Fellow, University of Cambridge

Nick previously investigated trade-offs between growth and immunity in greater and lesser honeyguides, and is currently studying how the eggs of ground-nesting birds cope with the extreme temperatures experienced during the dry season. Read more here…

Gabriel Jamie

Dr Gabriel Jamie

BBSRC-funded postdoc, University of Cambridge and Research Associate, University of Cape Town

Gabriel researches mimicry and speciation with a particular interest in brood-parasitic birds, and co-leads the project. For his PhD he studied the interactions between the parasitic indigobirds and whydahs of Africa and their hosts. He is currently studying the evolution and genetics of egg diversity in the hosts of avian brood parasites. Read more here…

Jess Lund

Jess Lund

MSc student, University of Cape Town (from 2021 PhD student, University of Cambridge)

Jess’s research focuses on the intriguing interactions between the African cuckoo and its host, the fork-tailed drongo. Jess is using field experiments and molecular techniques to discover some of the coevolutionary consequences of host signatures. Read more here…

Luke McClean

Luke McClean

PhD student, University of Cape Town

Luke’s PhD research focusses on coevolutionary interactions between lesser and greater honeyguides and their respective hosts, supported by a Study Abroad studentship from The Leverhulme Trust. He previously worked on bird projects on five continents. Read more here…

Collins Moya

Collins Moya

Chief fieldworker, Choma team

Collins has been our primary field assistant since 2007. He was born near Choma and attended Monze Secondary School. Collins helps to manage the field team, check experiments, collect samples, catch birds in mistnets, position nest cameras, and carry out outreach activities.

Sylvester Munkonko

Sylvester Munkoko

Chief fieldworker, Choma team

Sylvester has worked with us as a nest-finder since 2012, and in recent years has also helped extensively with conducting experiments and positioning nest cameras.

Claire Spottiswoode

Professor Claire Spottiswoode

Pola Pasvolsky Chair in Conservation Biology, University of Cape Town and BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellow, University of Cambridge

Claire leads the project, which she started off in 2006 thanks to meeting Major John Colebrook-Robjent. She spends as much time as possible happily in the field working on Cuckoo Finches, honeyguides, cuckoos, nightjars, and the survival of our fleet of venerable Toyotas. Read more here…

Nest-finding assistants

Everything we do in Zambia depends on a brilliant team of fieldworkers on Musumanene, Semhawa and Muckleneuk Farms who, in their spare time from farm work, find all the nests we study. Here are some among them:

Collaborators

Professor Tim Birkhead

University of Sheffield, UK

Tim has visited Choma several times and collaborated with Claire on work on internal incubation by cuckoos and honeyguides, on honeyguide brains, and on early developmental adaptations in parasitic chicks. Visit Tim’s webpage.

Dr Moses Chibesa

Copperbelt University, Zambia

Dr Chibesa is a Lecturer and Head of the Department of Zoology and Aquatic Sciences, School of Natural Resources at Copperbelt University, Zambia. His research focuses on the conservation and ecology of birds. Visit Copperbelt University’s Department of Zoology and Aquatic Sciences.

Professor Robert Fleischer and Dr Carly Muletz Wolz

Smithsonian Institution and University of Maryland, USA

We are collaborating with Rob and Carly at the Smithsonian’s Centre for Conservation Genomics on the metagenomics of brood parasites and their hosts, and in particular the possible role of gut bacteria in facilitating the peculiar ability of honeyguides to digest bees’ wax. Visit the Center for Conservation Genomics.

Dr Tony Fulford

University of Cambridge, UK

We are collaborating with Tony, a statistician and ornithologist, on analyses of the long-term bird breeding data collected by Major John Colebrook-Robjent, and on understanding the thermal costs to eggs of ground-nesting birds in Zambia. Visit Tony’s page.

Professor Rebecca Kilner

University of Cambridge, UK

Gabriel, Claire and Rebecca are collaborating on a Leverhulme Trust-funded project studying the role of phenotypic plasticity in driving evolutionary diversification in Vidua finches. Visit the Kilner Group.

Jeroen Koorevaar

ECO Logisch, The Netherlands

Jeroen is a partner in an environmental consultancy firm, and for many years came annually to Zambia to help chase brood parasites. He has worked especially on honeyguides, and has assisted with two film shoots with us by the BBC Natural History Unit. Visit ECO Logisch.

Professor L. Mahadevan and lab

Harvard University, USA

We are collaborating with Mahadevan and members of his lab (particularly Dr Salem Al-Mosleh and Gary Choi) on mathematical modelling of pattern features in host egg signatures and parasitic egg forgeries. Visit the Mahadevan lab.

Maggie Mwale

Livingstone Museum, Zambia

Maggie is the Assistant Keeper of Ornithology at Livingstone Museum. She has a particular interest in the diverse structures and materials birds use to construct their nest. Visit Livingstone Museum’s Department Ornithology.

Dr Ngawo Namukonde

Copperbelt University, Zambia

Dr Namukonde is a Lecturer in the Department of Zoology and Aquatic Sciences, School of Natural Resources at the Copperbelt University, Zambia. Her research focuses on the conservation of biological diversity with a particular emphasis on small mammals. Visit Copperbelt University’s Department of Zoology and Aquatic Sciences.

Dr Steve Portugal and Stephanie McClelland

Royal Holloway, University of London

We collaborate with Steve and Stephanie on understanding the physiological adaptations in brood-parasitic eggs and chicks that may allow them to grow so quickly and so help them to kill or outcompete host young. Visit the Portugal lab.

Stanford Siachoono

Copperbelt University, Zambia

Stanford is a Lecturer in the Department of Zoology and Aquatic Sciences, School of Natural Resources at the Copperbelt University, Zambia, whose research focuses on conservation and ecosystem management. Visit Copperbelt University’s Department of Zoology and Aquatic Sciences.

Professor Michael Sorenson and lab

Boston University, USA

We are working closely with Mike on the evolutionary genetics of Cuckoo Finches, Tawny-flanked Prinias and honeyguides, and on gene expression in Vidua finches – birds on which Mike and his team have previously carried out classic work. Visit the Sorenson lab.

Professor Martin Stevens

Exeter University, UK 

Martin and Claire have collaborated extensively on Cuckoo Finch research to date, to which Martin’s skills as a sensory ecologist have been pivotal especially in analysing egg phenotypes. In 2012 he and Jolyon Troscianko also joined us in the field to carry out an experiment on Tawny-flanked Prinias. Visit Martin’s Sensory Ecology and Evolution Group.

Dr Mary Caswell Stoddard and lab

Princeton University, USA

We collaborate with Cassie and members her lab (particularly Ben Hogan) on understanding the evolution of mimicry by modelling higher-level pattern features on parasitic eggs and chicks. Visit the Stoddard Lab.

Alumni

Dr Eleanor Caves

Now at Exeter University, UK

Eleanor carried out MPhil (Master’s) research on the evolution of egg signatures in Diederik Cuckoo and Cuckoo Finch hosts, based on the wonderful egg collection of the late Major John Colebrook-Robjent. She then carried out her PhD in Sönke Johnsen’s lab at Duke University, and is now a Marie Curie Fellow at Exeter University. Visit Eleanor’s website.

Jana Riederer

Now at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Jana carried out an internship working on the cuckoo finch-prinia arms race in Zambia in 2018, with a special focus on chick begging signals and adaptation to different host rearing environments. She graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2017 and is currently an MSc student at Groningen University, where she will start her PhD in 2020. Visit the Groningen Modelling Adaptive Response Mechanisms group.

Dr Marjorie Sorensen

Now at the University of Guelph, Canada

In 2010 Marjorie founded a new project working on the wintering ecology of migratory birds at our study site in Zambia, focussing especially on understanding the evolution of winter song and territoriality, on which she did her PhD at the University of Cambridge. She is now at the University of Guelph in Canada. Visit Marjorie’s webpage.

Dr Wenfei Tong

Now at Nature Publishing Group

Wenfei was a BBSRC-funded postdoc on the evolutionary genetics of host-specific adaptation in cuckoo finches and honeyguides, following her PhD at Harvard University on cooperative mound construction by some fascinating mice. Wenfei is now an Associate Editor of Nature Communications.

Dr Jolyon Troscianko

Now at Exeter University, UK

Together with Jared Wilson-Aggarwal and Martin Stevens, Jolyon worked on the evolution of camouflage in ground-nesting birds (nightjars, plovers and coursers) in Zambia and South Africa. In 2012 Jolyon also worked on Cuckoo Finches. Jolyon is now a NERC Independent Research Fellow at Exeter University. Visit Jolyon’s website.

Dr Jared Wilson-Aggarwal

Now at Exeter University, UK

Together with Jolyon Troscianko, Jared carried out a project on the evolution of camouflage in ground-nesting birds (nightjars, plovers and coursers) in Zambia and South Africa, co-led by Dr Martin Stevens at Exeter University. Jared recently completed his PhD in disease ecology at Exeter University. Visit Jared’s website.

News

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.

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

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.