Jess Lund

Biography & Research

Jess Lund

My research focuses on the ways in which species interact, and the consequences of these interactions on the evolutionary trajectories of populations. I am particularly interested in the coevolutionary interactions of avian brood parasites and their hosts, and the role of phenotypic plasticity in facilitating host-specific adaptations. My research is predominantly field-based, involving observation and experiments of behaviour and physiology, but I supplement this with genetic and genomic data. I am driven by a passion for natural history, which was instilled during my childhood growing up on a farm in rural South Africa.

I completed my BSc at the University of Cape Town and did my BSc Honours project on thermoregulation of pygmy falcons in the Kalahari (supervised by Dr. Robert Thomson and Prof. Andrew McKechnie). During my undergraduate I also participated in projects on pollination biology of orchids, heterospecific eavesdropping in birds, the use of sociable weaver nests as a resource in the Kalahari, and the adaptive significance of the black skin of cuckoo finch chicks.

I joined the African Cuckoos team in 2019 as an MSc student, based at the University of Cape Town, and supervised by Prof. Claire Spottiswoode and Dr Gabriel Jamie. My dissertation focussed on the rare phenomenon of perfect mimicry and to explore this, I investigated the near-perfect mimicry by African cuckoos of fork-tailed drongo eggs.

In 2021 I shifted my focus from cuckoos to honeyguides. I am currently undertaking my PhD at the University of Cambridge, where I am investigating the mechanisms and ecological consequences of host specificity in honeyguides. Part of my PhD focusses on bringing together two distinct strings of greater honeyguide life history: their lives as brood parasites of bee-eaters, kingfishers, hoopoes and others; and their lives as mutualists with human honey-hunters. I am also interested in the genomic basis of egg mimicry and the mating systems of brood parasites.

Despite moving to the UK for my PhD, I remain unashamedly biased towards African birdlife.




Lund, J., Bolopo, D., Thomson, R. L., Elliott, D. L., Arnot, L. F., Kemp, R., Lowney, A. M., McKechnie, A. E. 2020. Winter thermoregulation in free-ranging pygmy falcons in the Kalahari Desert. Journal of Ornithology 161:549–555. Read online


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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