Jana Riederer

Biography & Research

Jana Riederer with Cape Robin.

I am a graduate in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, specialising in Zoology. I am currently spending a year gaining additional field research experience, before continuing my graduate studies in evolutionary biology (MSc in Evolution and Ecology in the Netherlands).

I have always held a deep fascination for science and biology, and especially for evolutionary biology and behavioural ecology – I find it intriguing to ask questions about how selection shapes the world around us, and investigate why organisms appear and behave as they do. My enthusiasm for research and biology was further fuelled by the fascinating Natural Sciences course at the University of Cambridge, as well as by the several research projects which I had the privilege to take part in. These projects took me on a journey through different countries and continents, and through several of the, in my opinion, most fascinating topics in biology – including work on ecological engineering in the Philippines (with Prof. Settele from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research), cell biology and genetics in Austria (research group of Prof. Friml) and pollination ecology in Panama (research group of Prof. Jiggins). For my bachelor thesis, I investigated the effect of shoal coherence and personality composition on foraging success and learning in three-spined sticklebacks, under the supervision of Dr. Boogert

I am very excited to now join the African Cuckoos group and work on the amazing study system of cuckoo finches and their various hosts. During my time here, I will carry out two projects. Firstly, I will use behavioural experiments to investigate two hypotheses for why cuckoo finch chicks have black skin – as a way of accentuating the signal of the striking red and yellow inner areas of the mouth, or as part of their thermoregulation.  Secondly, in collaboration with Nick Horrocks, I will monitor chick rearing environments in the various hosts of cuckoo finches. This will allow us to explore how phenotypic plasticity can mediate adaptation of parasite chicks to host-specific rearing environments.


New paper on imperfect egg mimicry

Our paper “Combined measures of mimetic fidelity explain imperfect mimicry in a brood parasite-host system” has just been published in the journal Biology Letters. This study was led by Tanmay Dixit, and carried out together with Gary Choi, Salem al-Mosleh, Jess Lund, Jolyon Troscianko, Collins Moya, L Mahadevan, and Claire Spottiswoode, as part of a collaboration between our group and Prof. Mahadevan and his lab at Harvard University. Together we combined mathematical tools and field experiments in Zambia to quantify a key difference – “squiggle” markings – between the eggs of hosts (tawny-flanked prinias) and parasites (cuckoo finches). We showed that suboptimal behaviour on the part of prinias allows cuckoo finches to get by with an imperfect copy of prinia eggs.

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New paper on host aggression and hawk mimicry

Our paper “Aggressive hosts are undeterred by a cuckoo’s hawk mimicry, but probably make good foster parents” has just been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In the paper, we investigate the costs and benefits to the African cuckoo of specializing on a highly aggressive host species, the fork-tailed drongo.

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African Cuckoos Team at the Pan-African Ornithological Congress

The African Cuckoos Team had a fantastic time at the Pan-African Ornithological Congress (PAOC15), this year held in Vic Falls, Zimbabwe. Dr Chima Nwaogu gave a plenary talk on “Differing Priorities in the Timing of Annual Life History Events”, while Professor Claire Spottiswoode and Silky Hamama presented during a roundtable session on communities in conservation and research. Silky also presented a poster, with Claire, Jess Lund, Mairenn Attwood and Cameron Blair each giving research talks as well. 

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