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

Yinka Abayomi

Yinka Abayomi

MSc student, University of Cape Town

Yinka is studying the occurrence and determinants of pre-rain vegetation green-up and its association with bird breeding seasonality in the miombo woodlands of Zambia. Read more here…

Mairenn Collins Attwood

Mairenn Attwood

PhD student, University of Cambridge

Mairenn is researching how community ecology affects the co-evolution of African cuckoos and fork-tailed drongos. She is using model presentations in her fieldwork to quantify drongo mimicry and aggression, examining their roles both as exploiters and exploited. Read more here…

Cameron Blair

Cameron Blair

MSc student, University of Cape Town

Cameron is studying how honeyguide chicks acoustically manipulate their host foster-parents into feeding them large amounts of food. During his previous Honours research, he investigated whether the greater honeyguide’s remarkable guiding call develops from its begging calls. Read more here…

Tanmay Dixit and a cuckoo finch chick

Dr Tanmay Dixit

Junior Research Fellow, University of Cambridge, and Research Associate, University of Cape Town

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 how the mechanisms of producing and recognising signatures influence coevolution. Read more here…

Silky Hamama

Silky Hamama

Chief fieldworker, Choma team

Silky has been working with us since 2012. Silky hails from Sinazongwe close to Lake Kariba, and 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 mistnets, 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 an expert preparator of museum skins.

Nick Horrocks

Dr Nicholas Horrocks

Guest Researcher, Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology & Infectious Disease

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

Gabriel Jamie

Dr Gabriel Jamie

Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, 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 with a young greater honeyguide

Jess Lund

PhD student, University of Cambridge

Jess previously worked on the evolution of egg signatures in the African cuckoo and fork-tailed drongo, but she has now crossed over to the dark side and is focusing on honeyguides. For her PhD she is investigating how the early lives of honeyguides (in the nests of their hosts) can influence their lives as adults. 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.

Collins Moya

Maggie Mwale

Conservation Biology MSc student, University of Cape Town

Maggie is a carrying out her Conservation Biology MSc research project to determine  whether egg phenotypes have changed over time to thermally adapt in response to climate change. Read more here…

Dr Chima Nwaogu with a greater honeyguide

Dr Chima Nwaogu

Junior Research Fellow, University of Cape Town

Chima’s research focusses on life-history evolution in the tropics. During his Junior Research Fellowship, he is establishing a new programme of work investigating the timing of breeding in Afrotropical birds and how it may be affected by environmental change. Read more here…

Joel Radue

Joel Radue

Honours research student, University of Cape Town

Joel is carrying out his BSc Honours research project on the relationships between temperature, egg phenotypes and parental behaviour in ground-nesting birds in Zambia. He is a keen birder and broadly interested in evolutionary biology, especially the origins of phenotypic plasticity, and the role of plasticity in adaption and speciation. Read more here…

Onest Siakwasia

Onest Siakwasia

Chief fieldworker, Choma team

Onest grew up in Zambia’s Western Province, but his family have long been part of the Semahwa community in Choma. Onest joined the field team in early 2022 and has quickly become a key part of our projects together, helping to check experiments, collect samples, catch birds in mistnets, position nest cameras, carry out outreach activities, and conduct insect and vegetation sampling.

Claire Spottiswoode

Professor Claire Spottiswoode

Pola Pasvolsky Chair in Conservation Biology, University of Cape Town and Principal Research Associate, University of Cambridge

Claire leads the project, which she started off in 2006 thanks to meeting Major John Colebrook-Robjent. She is fascinated by the ecology, evolution and conservation of species interactions. Her research focusses mainly on coevolution between brood-parasitic birds and their hosts (this website), and mutualism between honeyguides and the human honey-hunters with whom they cooperate to gain access to bees’ nests (see AfricanHoneyguides.com). Read more here…

Jonah Walker

Jonah Walker

Guest Researcher, University of Cambridge

Jonah researches the evolution of animal and plant signals, particularly in the context of speciation and co-evolutionary interactions between species. Currently he is combining fieldwork and lab-work to explore whether whether warbler and weaver host species have evolved eggs which are more vulnerable to thermal or UV damage as a consequence of their arms race with brood-parasitic cuckoo finches. 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 collaborated 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 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.

Frank Willems

Birding Zambia & Kigelia Solutions, Zambia

Frank is an ecologist and conservation biologist who’s lived in Zambia since 2008. He has worked in the management of several Zambian national parks and now runs his own companies Birding Zambia and Kigelia Solutions. Frank is one of the authors of the “Birds of Zambia” app and runs Kalwelwa Bushcamp in Mwinilunga. Through his work he has discovered many new species of bird, reptile and amphibian to Zambia. For more see: www.frankwillems.org.

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, followed by a Marie Curie Fellow at Exeter University, and she is now an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Visit Eleanor’s la website.

Luke McClean

Matt Lobenhofer

Matt grew up in the concrete jungle of New York City with an intense passion for ecology and its conservation. He joined the Zambian team for his Conservation Biology Master’s dissertation in 2022. He explored the year-round patterns of invertebrate abundance and community composition in Choma, which he found to be best predicted by temperature. He also found that the timing of avian breeding activity and its peak correlated with the pattern of year-round invertebrate abundance, suggesting a seasonal association.

Luke McClean

Dr Luke McClean

Luke carried out his PhD research in Zambia on coevolutionary interactions between lesser and greater honeyguides and their respective hosts, supported by a Study Abroad studentship from The Leverhulme Trust. He graduated in 2020 and now works at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand. Read more here…

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 a PhD student at Groningen University. 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 a Science Editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, USA. Visit Wenfei’s webpage.

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 Senior Lecturer at Exeter University. Visit Jolyon’s website.

Dr Jared Wilson-Aggarwal

Now at the University of Leeds, 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 went on to complete his PhD in disease ecology at Exeter University and is now a Research Fellow at the University of Leeds. Visit Jared’s website.

News

Tanmay Dixit awarded PhD and starting Junior Research Fellowship

Tanmay’s PhD, entitled “Signatures and forgeries: optimality in a coevolutionary arms race” was awarded with no corrections. Huge thanks to collaborators and colleagues who were instrumental to this work, and to examiners James Herbert-Read and Graeme Ruxton. Tanmay will remain on the team and continue conducting fieldwork in Choma as part of the Junior Research fellowship that he is starting at Jesus College, Cambridge.

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