Dr Chima Nwaogu

Biography & Research

Dr Chima Nwaogu

Chima Nwaogu with a male African Paradise Flycatcher.

Chima Nwaogu studied for an undergraduate degree in Zoology and a master’s degree in Conservation Biology at the University of Jos (Nigeria) before taking up a PhD position at the Universities of Groningen (Netherlands) and the University of St. Andrews (UK). His PhD was supervised by Professor Irene Tieleman (Groningen) and Professor Will Cresswell (St. Andrews) and jointly funded by the Ubbo Emmius funds of the University of Groningen and the Leventis Foundation. He investigated how variation in environmental condition and diet affect innate immune function and other life history traits in birds.

Chima got involved with birds while visiting the A. P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI) as an undergraduate student. He has been involved with ornithology and conservation of African Birds and is a research associate at the APLORI, where amongst other tasks he helps with monitoring of a Rosy Bee-eater breeding colony on the river Niger, Nigeria. He was a DST-NRF Centre of Excellence Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology where he studied how urbanisation, weather patterns and plumage colour polymorphism associate with differences in breeding performance and physiological responses in Black Sparrowhawks Accipiter melanoleucus from 2019 to 2021. Chima is currently a Carnegie Developing Emerging Academic Leaders Junior Research Fellow at the FitzPatrick Institute under the mentorship of Prof. Claire Spottiswoode and other academics at the FitzPatrick Institute.

His current work will address a long-standing open question in life history research: why do Afrotropical birds breed when they do? Specifically, he will test a series of hypotheses on the timing of breeding in African Savannah birds using a combination of long-term data, and observational and experimental fieldwork at the Choma field site in Zambia. Current understanding suggests that food availability for nestlings is the main determinant of breeding seasonality, but many tropical birds breed outside peak periods of food abundance, suggesting that factors other than food availability are crucial for the timing of breeding in the tropics, or that other demanding stages of the annual cycle like moult are prioritised to coincide with peak periods of food abundance. Other possible influences on breeding outcomes are infection and nest predation risk, but little attention has been given to infection risk as a determinant of breeding seasonality. Infection risk should vary with environmental conditions, particularly with respect to aridity, and depending on species ecology. However, these hypotheses remain untested to explain differences in the timing of breeding across tropical bird assemblages. Our current understanding of life-history evolution is heavily biased towards the north-temperate zone, where seasonality is tightly correlated to temperature, unlike in the tropical and south-temperate zones where environmental conditions are much more varied. Addressing what explains the timing of breeding in Afrotropical birds will help to redress this bias and provide useful information on how breeding phenology may be affected by global change.


See also:

Publications | Google Scholar ProfileUCT Webpage


New paper on imperfect egg mimicry

Our paper “Combined measures of mimetic fidelity explain imperfect mimicry in a brood parasite-host system” has just been published in the journal Biology Letters. This study was led by Tanmay Dixit, and carried out together with Gary Choi, Salem al-Mosleh, Jess Lund, Jolyon Troscianko, Collins Moya, L Mahadevan, and Claire Spottiswoode, as part of a collaboration between our group and Prof. Mahadevan and his lab at Harvard University. Together we combined mathematical tools and field experiments in Zambia to quantify a key difference – “squiggle” markings – between the eggs of hosts (tawny-flanked prinias) and parasites (cuckoo finches). We showed that suboptimal behaviour on the part of prinias allows cuckoo finches to get by with an imperfect copy of prinia eggs.

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New paper on host aggression and hawk mimicry

Our paper “Aggressive hosts are undeterred by a cuckoo’s hawk mimicry, but probably make good foster parents” has just been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In the paper, we investigate the costs and benefits to the African cuckoo of specializing on a highly aggressive host species, the fork-tailed drongo.

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African Cuckoos Team at the Pan-African Ornithological Congress

The African Cuckoos Team had a fantastic time at the Pan-African Ornithological Congress (PAOC15), this year held in Vic Falls, Zimbabwe. Dr Chima Nwaogu gave a plenary talk on “Differing Priorities in the Timing of Annual Life History Events”, while Professor Claire Spottiswoode and Silky Hamama presented during a roundtable session on communities in conservation and research. Silky also presented a poster, with Claire, Jess Lund, Mairenn Attwood and Cameron Blair each giving research talks as well. 

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