Adaptation, mimicry and co-evolution in Africa's avian cheats: cuckoo finches, honeyguides, indigobirds & cuckoos



Dr Claire Spottiswoode

email: cns26 at
tel: +44 1223 768 946

Biography & Research

With a male Greater Honeyguide.

I am a BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellow and Hans Gadow Lecturer in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge, and also a Research Associate at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town in my home town in South Africa. I have been a member of the Department of Zoology in Cambridge since 2002, when I began PhD research under the supervision of Professor Nick Davies. I have stayed on since with the kind support of various research fellowships.

My main research interest is in coevolution, which is the focus of this website. I first began field research on coevolution between brood parasitic birds and their hosts in Zambia in early 2006 (made possible by a Junior Research Fellowship from Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge, and support from the Percy FitzPatrick Institute at the University of Cape Town). Initially I worked primarily on Cuckoo Finches, and have since also focussed heavily on Greater Honeyguides and African Cuckoos.

Most of my work is inspired by field observations and I believe strongly in the value of empirical work in natural settings. Through collaborations, I've also tried to combine my field experiments with specialised methodology in visual modelling and population genetics to answer new questions facilitated by these African model systems.

My focus to date has been in two main areas: first, I've been interested in asking how coevolution can escalate into ongoing arms races involving defensive egg signatures in hosts, and mimetic forgeries in parasites. Second, incorporating genetic approaches, I have been interested in asking how host-specificity can evolve within parasitic species that exploit multiple hosts. Please see the Research and Study Systems pages on this website for more information on these topics.

Aside from coevolution in brood parasites, I am also more widely interested in the reproductive ecology of birds and have also worked on nest camouflage, avian sociality, life-history evolution, sexual selection, and migration. I have an ongoing secondary (but enthusiastic!) interest in wider African ornithology and conservation (particularly in the Horn of Africa, and northern Mozambique). Please see the links below for more information on some of these topics.

I currently serve on the editorial board of Biology Letters, and am a Senior Research Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge.

See also: Other Research Interests | Publications | Departmental webpage