Upcoming Meetings

PROGRAMME for 2017

Please note that in 2017 evening meetings will take place on a Monday, rather than Tuesday as hitherto.


Monday, 6 November: Dr Claire SpottiswoodeCuckoos vs. hosts: an African perspective.

Abstract: This talk will discuss the co-evolutionary arms races that arise between brood parasites and the hosts they exploit to raise their young, focusing on various African bird species that I study in the field in Zambia: cuckoos, honeyguides and parasitic finches (especially Cuckoo-finch Anomalospiza imberbis). In particular I will ask, first, how coevolution can escalate to shape sophisticated signals of identity, leading to a race between host egg ‘signatures’ and parasitic egg ‘forgeries’. Second, how can co-evolution shape ancient genetic specialisation within a single species, allowing the evolution of parasitic ‘gentes’? The research I will describe comes from a mixture of field experiments facilitated by a large team of wonderful Zambian nest-finders, and museum work enabled by the remarkable egg collection of the late Major John Colebrook-Robjent.

Eggs of Cuckoo-finch (inner circle) and Tawny-flanked Prinia (outer circle).

Biography: Claire works jointly at the University of Cambridge, where she is Hans Gadow Lecturer and a BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellow, and at the University of Cape Town in her home country of South Africa, where she is Pola Pasvolsky Chair in Conservation Biology. She did her B.Sc. (Hons.) at the University of Cape Town, before moving to the University of Cambridge as a Ph.D. student, supervised by Prof. Nick Davies. She has stayed there ever since with the kind support of a series of research fellowships, which have permitted her to spend the last 12 years or so carrying out field work on various evolutionary questions involving birds, primarily in Zambia working on brood parasitism, and also latterly in Mozambique working on honeyguide-human mutualism.