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

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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