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]


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 www.AfricanHoneyguides.com) 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!

read more

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!

read more

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: https://tinyurl.com/ycgdw4lu

read more