Dr Gabriel A. Jamie

Biography & Research

Gabriel Jamie with Mozambican Tailorbird

Gabriel Jamie with Mozambican Tailorbird, Njesi Plateau, November 2016 (photo by Mac Stone).

Gabriel Jamie became interested in science as a child through watching birds, first in Cape Town and then in the United Kingdom. This has resulted in a life-long avian obsession that has led him to fieldwork on birds in many places around the world. As a teenager he worked on projects studying migratory birds in the Danube Delta of Romania and on Antikythira in Greece. While doing an undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, Gabriel spent summers working as a research assistant studying bird communities in Peru with scientists from Oxford University and Conservation International.

After graduating, Gabriel went on to do a PhD with Professor Claire Spottiswoode at University of Cambridge conducting fieldwork in Zambia to study mimicry and speciation in the brood-parasitic Vidua finches (indigobirds and whydahs), funded by The Leverhulme Trust. As part of this work he developed a new conceptual framework for understanding how mimicry is conceived and categorised in the natural world. His research on mimicry in the Vidua finches was published in the journal Evolution where it was featured on the front cover and was awarded the Society for the Study of Evolution President’s Award for Outstanding Paper published in Evolution. The research was also featured in a recent BBC and Netflix documentary, Attenborough’s Life in Colour, for which Gabriel was a scientific consultant during the filming which took place at the field site in Choma.

Gabriel went on to take up a BBSRC-funded post-doctoral research associate position at the University of Cambridge where his work has focussed on the brood-parasitic Cuckoo Finch (Anomalospiza imberbis) and its Tawny-flanked Prinia (Prinia subflava) hosts. Prinias have evolved incredibly diverse eggs which vary dramatically in colour and pattern between individuals. In collaboration with Professor Michael Sorenson of Boston University and Professor Claire Spottiswoode of Cambridge/University of Cape Town, Gabriel is currently investigating the genetic basis of this diversity and the consequences of this genetic architecture for the co-evolutionary trajectories in the ongoing arms race between prinias and their Cuckoo Finch parasites. More generally he is researching the evolution of polymorphisms across species radiations as explored in a recent article co-written with Dr Joana Meier in Trends in Ecology and Evolution. This paper was selected as the Trends Editor’s Pick and featured on the front cover.

In 2021, Gabriel was awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellowship allowing him to build on his previous work with Professor Claire Spottiswoode and Dr Joana Meier to extend his investigations into the origins and evolution of polymorphisms beyond single species in order to understand their dynamics across species radiations. To explore these concepts, Gabriel is using the avian family Cisticolidae, and in particular the genus Cisticola, as a model system to investigate the evolution of polymorphisms across a species-rich African radiation.

Gabriel is a passionate field biologist and has been involved in ornithological expeditions around the world to study poorly-known species and understudied habitats with a particular focus on African biodiversity. He is a Research Associate at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town. In November 2016, Gabriel was part of an expedition to the Njesi Plateau in northern Mozambique with researchers from BINCO. Together with Sam Jones, they discovered new populations of the highly endangered Mozambican Tailorbird (Artisornis sousae) and Dapplethroat (Modulatrix orostruthus) as well as finding two species previously unrecorded from Mozambique (publication here).

 

See also:

Publications | Google Scholar Profile Departmental Webpage | Xeno-canto profile

News

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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