Dr Tony Fulford

Biography & Research

Tanmay Toucan

On the Zambezi River, Zambia, October 2014.

My background is in medical research in Africa.  I work for 14 years as statistician in the Department of Pathology in Cambridge on the immunology and epidemiology Schistosomiasis in Kenya and Uganda, a joint project with the Kenyan Medical Research Institute and the Departments of Health in Kenya and Uganda.  The chronic nature of this infection allows a window on the development of the immune response over a timespan of decades: we demonstrated that the effective TH2 (IgE) immune response appears to be host-age dependent and does not develop until after puberty.

After that I worked for 15 years in nutrition research with the Medical Research Council’s International Nutrition Group.  The wide-ranging research of this group was largely conducted at a field station at Keneba in the Gambia.  Particular focuses were the interactions between iron, anaemia and infection, fetal and infant growth and early (nutritional) determinants of adult disease.  The analysis of longitudinal growth and seasonality (and other cyclic) data, genetic and epigenetic association analysis.

In both posts I provided statistical and data management support to the research team.  In Keneba I directed the development of a demographic surveillance system, the computerisation of the clinic and a DNA/biobank, all of which were integrated with one another and with data generated by the numerous research projects (ref).

I joined the Department of Zoology as an academic visitor from Oct 2014.  Here I have been engaged in a number of projects including analysis of Major Colebrook-Robjent’s egg collection data (with Claire Spottiswoode), modelling overheating of ground-nesting birds’ eggs exposed to the intense tropical sun of Zambia (with Nick Horrocks), maintaining the cohort of PIT-tagged Great Tits in Madingley Wood and analysis of data from these and other projects (with Hannah Rowland) and changes in women’s attraction and attractiveness associated with hormonal changes due to the menstrual cycle or hormonal contraception use (Rob Burriss and Hannah Rowland).

My publications can be found on my Google Scholar page where (as of Oct 2015) my lifetime H-index is given as 42 (28 since 2010).

My other interests include bird ringing and wildlife sound recording.

Publications

Dixit, T., English, S. & Lukas, D. (2017), The relationship between egg size and helper number in cooperative breeders: a meta-analysis across species. PeerJ 5:e4028; DOI 10.7717/peerj.4028. Read on journal website [Open Access]

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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