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).


New paper on host-specific mimicry by indigobird and whydah chicks

In a new paper published in Evolution, Dr Gabriel Jamie along with Silky Hamama, Collins Moya and Prof. Claire Spottiswoode from the African Cuckoos team and collaborators from University of Puerto Rico (Steven Van Belleghem), Princeton University (Dr Cassie Stoddard and Dr Ben Hogan) and University of Cambridge (Professor Rebecca Kilner) provide evidence of host-specific mimicry in the indigobirds and whydahs of Africa. Building on the pioneering work of Robert Payne and Jürgen Nicolai, they provide quantitative evidence that nestling Vidua finches mimic the patterns, colours and begging calls of their host’s nestling, and qualitative evidence of mimicry of host movements.

Pick of the month in Trends in Ecology and Evolution

Dr Gabriel Jamie and Dr Joana Meier’s paper “The Persistence of Polymorphisms across Species Radiations” has been selected by Trends in Ecology and Evolution as the journal Editor’s pick of the month. Read the full paper here:

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