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Dr Claire Spottiswoode

Dr Claire Spottiswoode

BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellow and Hans Gadow Lecturer

Claire Spottiswoode is accepting applications for PhD students.

Room F29
Office Phone: 01223 (7)68946


I joined the department in 2002 as a PhD student (supervised by Professor Nick Davies), coming from the University of Cape Town in my home country of South Africa. I've stayed on ever since with the kind support of a series of research fellowships from Sidney Sussex College, The Royal Society, and currently the BBSRC. I am a Senior Research Fellow at Magdalene College.

Research Themes

Behavioural Ecology:
All Principal Investigators:

Coevolution, ecology and behaviour, mostly in birds

Research Interests

I'm interested in studying coevolution in the wild, and work mainly on African birds. I try to integrate field experiments with other approaches such as population genetics, sensory ecology, and comparative analyses across species. My current research focus is on coevolutionary arms races between brood parasitic birds (such as cuckoos, honeyguides and parasitic finches) and the host species they exploit to bear the costs of raising their young. In hosts, I am particularly interested in the evolution of defensive adaptations against brood parasites that mimic their eggs, such as visual 'signatures' that are difficult for parasites to forge. In parasites, my collaborators and I are trying to understand the genetic mechanisms that allow a single species of brood parasite to evolve highly specialised adaptations (such as egg mimicry) to exploit multiple host species at once. Most of my research happens at a field site in southern Zambia where I've worked together with a wonderful team of local assistants since 2006, and where several colleagues here in Cambridge now work too.

I'm also more widely interested in the reproductive ecology of birds, and some of my previous and current research topics also include life history evolution, nest camouflage, sexual selection, and bird migration, as well as the ecology of certain threatened species in Africa. I am South African and affiliated as a Research Associate to the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town.

Key Publications

Caves, E.M., Stevens, M., Iversen, E. & Spottiswoode, C.N. 2015 Hosts of brood parasites have evolved egg signatures with elevated information content. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 282: 20150598.

Feeney, W.E., Troscianko, J., Langmore, N.E. & Spottiswoode, C.N. 2015 Evidence for aggressive mimicry in an adult brood parasitic bird, and generalised defences in its host. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 282: 2015079.

Spottiswoode, C.N. 2013 A brood parasite selects for its own eggs traits. Biology Letters 9: 20130573

Stevens, M., Troscianko, J. & Spottiswoode, C.N. 2013 Repeated targeting of the same hosts by a brood parasite compromises host egg rejection. Nature Communications 4: 2475.

Spottiswoode, C.N. & Stevens, M. 2012 Host-parasite arms races and rapid changes in bird egg appearance. American Naturalist 179: 633-648.

Spottiswoode, C.N. & Koorevaar, J. 2012 A stab in the dark: chick killing by brood parasitic honeyguides. Biology Letters 8: 241-244.

Spottiswoode, C.N., Stryjewski, K.F., Quader, S., Colebrook-Robjent, J.F.R. & Sorenson, M.D. 2011 Ancient host-specificity within a single species of brood parasitic bird. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 108: 17738-17742

Spottiswoode, C.N. & Stevens, M. 2011 How to evade a coevolving brood parasite: egg discrimination versus egg variability as host defences. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 278: 3566-3573.

Spottiswoode, C.N. & Stevens, M. 2010 Visual modeling shows that avian host parents use multiple visual cues in rejecting parasitic eggs. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 107: 8672-8676.

Other Publications

Please see my Google Scholar profile for a complete list.