Tanmay Dixit

Biography & Research

Tanmay Toucan

Tanmay’s research addresses how mechanisms influence the coevolution of brood parasites and their hosts. 

His passion for brood parasitism, ornithology, and animal behaviour was inspired by his love of natural history. This fascination with natural history, alongside his interest in how species interact in life’s complex web led to him studying Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge. During and after Tanmay’s undergraduate degree, he has conducted projects across the world, including in the neotropics (Panama and Trinidad), and in Africa. It was in Africa that he joined the African cuckoos team in 2017. 

Tanmay began his PhD research in October 2018, studying the antagonistic interactions between cuckoo finches Anomalospiza imberbis and their hosts (family Cisticolidae) in Zambia. His work aims to understand how the mechanisms underpinning perception in hosts influences their egg rejection behaviour, the evolution of their egg patterns, and the evolution of their antagonists.  He is collaborating with mathematicians and computer scientists such as Prof. L Mahadevan (Harvard) and Dr. Christopher Town (Cambridge) to use top-down and bottom-up approaches in studying the evolution of egg signatures and forgeries. In particular, he has studied the perception and evolution of egg pattern complexity, the optimality of egg pattern traits, and imperfect mimicry. 

Tanmay’s focus on mechanisms and their effects on evolution requires cross-disciplinary approaches to studying both adaptation and maladaptation, and he particularly enjoys the collaborations with researchers across a range of fields. Nevertheless, he is particularly delighted to be able to pursue scientific questions in the beautiful setting of Zambia’s miombo woodland.



New paper on imperfect egg mimicry

Our paper “Combined measures of mimetic fidelity explain imperfect mimicry in a brood parasite-host system” has just been published in the journal Biology Letters. This study was led by Tanmay Dixit, and carried out together with Gary Choi, Salem al-Mosleh, Jess Lund, Jolyon Troscianko, Collins Moya, L Mahadevan, and Claire Spottiswoode, as part of a collaboration between our group and Prof. Mahadevan and his lab at Harvard University. Together we combined mathematical tools and field experiments in Zambia to quantify a key difference – “squiggle” markings – between the eggs of hosts (tawny-flanked prinias) and parasites (cuckoo finches). We showed that suboptimal behaviour on the part of prinias allows cuckoo finches to get by with an imperfect copy of prinia eggs.

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New paper on host aggression and hawk mimicry

Our paper “Aggressive hosts are undeterred by a cuckoo’s hawk mimicry, but probably make good foster parents” has just been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In the paper, we investigate the costs and benefits to the African cuckoo of specializing on a highly aggressive host species, the fork-tailed drongo.

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African Cuckoos Team at the Pan-African Ornithological Congress

The African Cuckoos Team had a fantastic time at the Pan-African Ornithological Congress (PAOC15), this year held in Vic Falls, Zimbabwe. Dr Chima Nwaogu gave a plenary talk on “Differing Priorities in the Timing of Annual Life History Events”, while Professor Claire Spottiswoode and Silky Hamama presented during a roundtable session on communities in conservation and research. Silky also presented a poster, with Claire, Jess Lund, Mairenn Attwood and Cameron Blair each giving research talks as well. 

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