Thursday 14 and Friday 15 June — A joint two-day meeting in Liverpool with the Society for the History of Natural History on the subject — Bon Voyage? 250 Years Exploring the Natural World. We will post a full report of this excellent meeting soon.
Monday 21 May 2018: Dr Bård G. Stokke gave a talk entitled Host use by the Common Cuckoo. Dr Stokke’s presentation opened with a brief introduction to the Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus and its brood parasitic lifestyle, accompanied by unique photos spanning the whole breeding season, taken by Olda Mikulica. Common Cuckoo is a generalist brood parasite at the species level, known to have utilised more than 100 host species in Europe alone. However, individual females are generally host specific, utilising and often mimicking the eggs of a particular host species. Dr Stokke focused the rest of his talk on the spatial variation in host use in Europe, and he discussed characteristics that are important for parasite utilisation of passerine hosts. The research and results that were described stem mostly from a thorough search for cuckoo parasitism events throughout Europe, which has taken eight years to accomplish and so far has recorded c.65,000 cases of parasitism.
The database discloses that 123 species have been utilised by Common Cuckoos in Europe, although c.30 species are used regularly in larger geographical areas. In addition, 18 more species may be used on a more local spatial scale. Risk of parasitism in host species is dependent on various characteristics like nest placement, habitat, food brought to chicks and female body size of the host. Spatial variation in host use may depend on several factors like host population size, breeding phenology, co-occurrence of several potential host species, habitat composition and spatial scale. The talk ended with a lively and cheerful discussion between the enthusiastic audience and Dr Stokke.
Interested readers are referred to Mikulica, O., Grim, T., Schulze-Hagen, K. & Stokke, B. G. 2017. The Cuckoo. The uninvited guest. Wild Nature Press (http://www.wildnaturepress.com/our-titles/cuckoo-uninvited-guest/).
Monday 19 March 2018: Justin Jansen gave a talk entitled The Ornithology of the Baudin expedition (1800–1804) and provided the following summary. The Baudin expedition to Australia and Timor of 1800–04 has largely been overlooked by the ornithological community, due to the effects of the Napoleonic Wars, personal rivalries, the death of Baudin himself during the expedition, and the lack of curatorial knowledge. The Baudin collection was the first large, significant and relatively complete collection of natural history specimens ever to arrive at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. A fair number of the specimens were to become the types of species ‘new to science’, and they included at least two taxa that are now extinct. The importance of the collection was at first not fully understood, and its specimens became dispersed all over Europe, ending up in collections such as Blois, La Châtre, Edinburgh, Florence, Geneva, Leiden, Nancy, Paris, Pavia and Vienna. Nevertheless, the expedition paved the way for the ‘father of Australian ornithology’, John Gould, who embarked on his journey to Australia almost 40 years later, in 1838.
The talk related the story of the remarkable avian collection acquired during the Baudin expedition, its historical context and importance, and the challenges of its preservation. The vicissitudes of history form the backdrop for the author’s fascination with reconstructing the expedition’s exploits and the difficulties involved in this. Over the years, only small parts of the Baudin collection have been researched and publicised. The talk aimed to provide a complete, detailed and comprehensive catalogue of the expedition’s ornithological exploits. By bringing together what is known about the collection and its dispersal, it will hopefully take research a step further and stimulate the search for the pieces that are still missing.