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


Dr Gabriel Jamie awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship

Dr Gabriel Jamie has been awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship based at University of Cambridge. For the fellowship Gabriel will build on his previous work on brood parasitism and the evolution of polymorphisms to understand the incredible diversity of egg...

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New paper published on Weber’s Law and mimicry

Our paper ‘Why and how to apply Weber’s Law to coevolution and mimicry’ has been published in the journal Evolution. This perspectives paper, written by Tanmay Dixit, Eleanor Caves, Claire Spottiswoode, and Nicholas Horrocks, argues that Weber’s Law of proportional processing can lead to otherwise counterintuitive predictions about the evolutionary trajectories of mimicry systems.  Weber’s Law states that when the magnitude of a stimulus is large, it is more difficult to discriminate a change or difference from that stimulus. In other words, relative differences are more salient than absolute differences. We show that Weber’s Law could have implications for mimicry: when stimulus magnitudes are high, it should be more difficult to discriminate a model from a mimic. This leads to testable predictions about evolutionary trajectories of models and mimics. We also present a framework for testing Weber’s Law and its implications for coevolution. 

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New paper on evolution of egg signatures

Our paper “Hosts elevate either within-clutch consistency or between-clutch distinctiveness of egg phenotypes in defence against brood parasites” has just been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. In this study, led by Eleanor Caves, we asked how host eggs evolve adaptations that allow them better to discriminate their own eggs from parasitic eggs. Theoretically, hosts can generate their own individually-distinctive egg ‘signatures’ by laying eggs that appear similar to one another (consistency) but look very different from other individuals’ eggs (distinctiveness). In this new study, we show that host species of two African brood parasites deploy either consistency or distinctiveness, but not both, as defences, and achieve distinctiveness by combining egg colours and patterns in unpredictable combinations.

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Mairenn Attwood awarded Cambridge teaching prize

Congratulations to Mairenn Attwood for being awarded the Janet Moore Prize for teaching in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge, for her outstanding tutorial supervision of final-year undergraduate students, who praised her breadth and depth of knowledge, enthusiasm, and friendliness.  Mairenn follows in the footsteps of Tanmay Dixit who was awarded the Janet Moore Prize in 2020. Well done both for inspiring the next generation of behavioural ecologists!

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