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


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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