Cameron Blair

Biography & Research

Cameron Blair

Cameron has been captivated by birds since he was a small child. His love for natural history was solidified growing up in the town of Hoedspruit, South Africa, a stone’s-throw from the famous Kruger National Park, Blyde River Canyon and Mariepskop forest. At the age of 12 he conducted a study on the choice of nesting locations by Red-headed Weavers for the Tritech Interschool Science Fair, and since then he has wanted to study ornithology.

Cameron has been fascinated by the remarkable life history of honeyguides (being both mutualists and brood parasites) since high school, making it the subject of a project for Visual Arts in his final year. He is also fascinated by the ecological consequences of bird calls as inter- and intraspecific signals.

He completed his BSc at the University of Cape Town in Applied Biology, Ecology and Evolution in 2020. In 2021, he completed BSc Honours with the African Honeyguides team at the University of Cape Town (supervised by Claire Spottiswoode and Jessica van der Wal), where he worked on the development of the guiding call of the Greater Honeyguide that functions in this species’ remarkable co-operative mutualism with humans. This work provided evidence that the guiding call develops from the calls honeyguide chicks use to beg for food from their host parents.

Still based at the University of Cape Town, he is now joining the African Cuckoos team for his MSc, looking at how brood-parasitic honeyguide chicks are able to acoustically deceive their host parents to provide them with large amounts of food. He is supervised by Claire Spottiswoode and Jess Lund.

He is passionate about scientific communication and sharing the wonders of the natural world. This has led him to be involved in the University of Cape Town’s Birding Club, chairing the club in 2020 and 2021. He is also the social media manager for Ostrich: Journal of African Ornithology, and enjoys sharing developments in African ornithological research across its social media platforms.

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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