Biography & Research
Jess grew up on a farm in Limpopo Province, northern South Africa, and spent her childhood surrounded by (and infatuated with) birds. At a young age, she decided that a career in ornithology was her calling. She completed her BSc at UCT majoring in Applied Statistics and Ecology & Evolution in 2017 and went on to do her Honours in 2018. Her Honours project (supervised by Dr. Robert Thomson and Prof. Andrew McKechnie) aimed to determine whether the arid-adapted pygmy falcon goes into a state of hypothermic torpor on winter nights in the Kalahari. Jess is broadly interested in the evolution and ecology of birds but is particularly fascinated by coevolution and behavioural ecology.
Her MSc dissertation at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology will look at the intriguing interactions between the African cuckoo (Cuculus gularis) and its host, the fork-tailed drongo (Dicrurus adsimilis), in the miombo woodlands of southern Zambia. She will use molecular techniques, field experiments and novel methods of image analysis to study the coevolutionary consequences of host signatures in this poorly-studied arms race. This research is supervised by Prof. Claire Spottiswoode and co-supervised by Dr Gabriel Jamie. Jess has also assisted with other projects on sociable weaver colonies in the Kalahari and on avian brood parasitism in Zambia.