Mairenn Attwood

Biography & Research

Mairenn Attwood

Mairenn is an MPhil student at the University of Cambridge, exploring the co-evolutionary arms race between hosts and brood parasites in Zambia. She remains driven by the same curiosity that spurred her interest in science from a young age (despite early set-backs including a failed experiment to grow a haribo tree).

Graduating in Natural Sciences in 2019, her undergraduate degree focussed her fascination with behavioural ecology, conservation and evolution.  She worked on various projects, including the impact of parasitic plants on invasive Oxalis, the function of buccal oscillations in túngara frogs, and interactions between pollen beetles and rock roses. She was also an intern with the Insect Ecology group in Cambridge, examining invertebrate diversity across ancient and recently planted woodland. In her final year project, she investigated behavioural responses to kleptoparasitism risk in sticklebacks, supervised by Professor Nick Davies. Across these diverse taxa, interactions between individuals and species emerged as a central research interest.

For her MPhil, supervised by Prof. Claire Spottiswoode, Mairenn is working with African cuckoos (Cuculus gularis)and their fork-tailed drongo hosts (Dicrurus adsimilis). The project investigates the trade-offs involved when parasites target aggressive hosts – focussing on front-line defences as well as nest survival rates. It also explores evidence for edge effects on these species at the study site, which is a matrix of farmland and miombo woodland.

Mairenn also enjoys scientific communication, engaging in outreach and co-directing content at Climate Science (an app producing resources for teenagers about climate change).


Dr Gabriel Jamie gives a talk on mimicry in parasitic finches at the African BirdFair

Dr Gabriel Jamie gave a talk on mimicry in the parasitic finches of Africa at Birdlife South Africa’s Virtual African Birdfair. Please also see Dr Jessica van der Wal’s talk on our sister research project on honeyguide-human mutualism (more information at and many other great research talks by our colleagues at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. Also visit the amazing line-up of other talks at the Virtual African BirdFair, including a talk on bird art by the brilliant Faansie Peacock who has generously allowed us to use his illustrations in several of our scientific publications. Thank you BirdLife South Africa!

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Mairenn Attwood submits her MPhil thesis

Congratulations to Mairenn Attwood for successfully submitting her MPhil thesis at the University of Cambridge, entitled ‘Angry birds: does it pay a cuckoo to parasitise a highly aggressive host?’. In it, Mairenn asks whether high levels of aggression by fork-tailed drongos affect hawk mimicry by the African cuckoo, and whether it pays cuckoos to specialise on such aggressive hosts. An amazing feat of field experimental work in Zambia (in collaboration with Jess Lund), analysis and writing in just one year of research – well done Mairenn!

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Front cover of Trends in Ecology and Evolution

Dr Gabriel Jamie and Dr Joana Meier’s paper on the persistence of polymorphisms across species radiations is on the front cover of the September issue of Trends in Ecology and Evolution. The cover image provides a specific example of the trans-species polymorphisms that the paper explores. Here, a polymorphism in shell chirality that recurs across multiple species of Amphidromus snails . Photos by Menno & Jan Schilthuizen. You can read the full article here:

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