Tanmay Dixit

Biography & Research

Tanmay Toucan

I am a PhD student at the University of Cambridge (BA Natural Sciences), studying the evolution and behavioural ecology of brood parasite – host interactions, with fieldwork in Zambia. I graduated from Cambridge in June 2017 and following have studied avian brood parasitism in South Africa and Zambia and interactions between fish species in Trinidadian streams.

Some of my research projects have included studying interactions between pollinators (Heliconius butterflies) and tropical vines (Psiguria), with Prof. Chris Jiggins in Panama, and theoretical work on the interaction between mating systems (specifically self-incompatibility in plants) and genetic barriers with Prof. Nick Barton. I also conducted a meta-analysis on cooperatively breeding vertebrates and maternal effects as one of my Bachelor projects, which has been published in the journal PeerJ.

I am primarily interested in species interactions and behavioural ecology, particularly the consequences of antagonistic arms races on adaptations and animal signals – these interests have been largely inspired by attending seminars and having conversations with members of the Behavioural Ecology Group at Cambridge. Prof. Nick Davies and Prof. Claire Spottiswoode have particularly inspired me and enhanced my interest in both scientific questions and natural history. In particular I have been fascinated by brood parasitism due to the wonderful adaptations, and some seemingly inexplicable maladaptations, that are generated by host-parasite coevolution.

In Zambia I am studying the interactions between cuckoo finches Anomalospiza imberbis and their hosts (family Cisticolidae). I am attempting to understand the mechanisms and adaptive decision-making involved in egg rejection by hosts, as well as why differences exist between some host and parasite eggs. I am collaborating with Prof. L Mahadevan (Harvard) and Dr. Cassie Stoddard (Princeton) to use top-down and bottom-up approaches in studying the evolution of egg signatures and forgeries, and the generation of adaptive repeated randomness. I also aim to understand the effects of coevolutionary arms races, and why outcomes of similar arms races may differ.

Having always been interested in nature, as well as being a keen bird- and wildlife-watcher, I am delighted to be able to pursue these scientific questions in the setting of Zambia’s miombo woodland. A large part of my passion for brood parasitism, ornithology and animal behaviour is inspired by my love of natural history.


  • Sorensen, M.C., Dixit, T., Newton, J., Kardynal, K., Hobson, K., Bensch, S., Jenni-Eiereman, S. & Spottiswoode, C.N. (2019) Migration distance does not predict blood parasitism in a Palearctic-African migratory bird. Ecology and Evolution 9: 8294-8304. Read on journal website [Open Access]
  • Dixit, T., English, S. & Lukas, D. (2017), The relationship between egg size and helper number in cooperative breeders: a meta-analysis across species. PeerJ 5:e4028; DOI 10.7717/peerj.4028. Read on journal website [Open Access]


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: https://tinyurl.com/y29l4ygr

Launching Honeyguiding.me for all bird enthusiasts in Africa!

Honeyguiding.me is a citizen science project for which we welcome all records of Greater Honeyguides anywhere in Africa. Visit our Honeyguiding.me project site in English, en français & em Português!
Please also follow the Honeyguide Research Project on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram @honeyguiding.