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Thanh-Lan Gluckman

Thanh-Lan Gluckman
Room F103
Office Phone: +44 (0) 1223 331 771


My path to evolutionary biology was a little convoluted, a little like me. I am part Vietnamese, part South African, I was born in Montpellier but I grew up mostly in Melbourne, Australia. My first career was in IT working for a small start-up in London at the tail end of the IT boom. I initially started in technical support, then I moved into consultancy before switching to marketing and business development. Despite this exciting opportunity in a successful business, I did not find it fulfilling.

It was a holiday to the eastern coast of Africa that turned out to be the impetus for change. Sitting on the edge of Ngorongoro crater, turning a torch at night out onto the Serengeti plains to see a sea of green eyes, and a few jumping red ones, and countless other experiences, all had a lasting effect. After two years of contemplation, and a yearning for something more, I decided to switch to science. During my undergraduate degree I was focused on Botany and Ecology. Sadly I could not do what I truly wanted for political reasons, which was Ethnobotany. However, I must acknowledge Australia's first nations people who contributed enormously to my development, especially the Yorta Yorta as well as the Yolngu people. 

In my Honours year I switched to Zoology and began research into bird plumage patterns. I have never looked back. I highly recommend the convoluted path.

Research Group

Evolutionary Genetics Group:
PhD student

Research Interests

One hundred and fifty years after Darwin’s On the Origin of Species there is still much to discover about evolution theory, which has traditionally focused on the coloration of bird plumage. However, plumage is often pigmented with patterns, such as spots and bars, which have received little attention. In my PhD I am studying the key mechanisms underlying convergent evolution in bird plumage patterns.

For example, Batesian mimicry of hawks by parasitic cuckoos via their barred plumage patterns. To address this question I used digital image analysis techniques. Alternatively, developmental constraint in plumage pattern evolution may explain why the same plumage patterns repeatedly evolve in birds. I have been testing this hypothesis using Bayesian comparative modelling. In addition, perhaps the evolutionary genetics of plumage pattern formation is highly conserved. To address these questions I am using molecular and developmental techniques. Finally, I am collaborating with Marius Somveille to consider convergence and divergence in plumage pattern evolution worldwide.

My long-term research aims are to understand how development and selection interact to bring about plumage patterns and species diversity.

Key Publications

A preview of things to come on the Evolutionary pathways to convergence in plumage pattern phenotypes (ESEB 2013):

Gluckman, T-L. In press. The elaboration of sexual dimorphism in bird plumage patterns. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.

Gluckman, T-L. & Mundy, NI. 2013. Cuckoos in raptorsʼ clothing: barred plumage illuminates a fundamental principle of Batesian mimicry. Animal Behaviour, doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2013.09.020
Selected media coverage: National Geographic (18th October 2013), Time (16th October 2013), The Independent (20th October 2013). Audioslides:

Gluckman T-L and Cardoso GC (2010) The dual function of barred plumage in birds: camouflage and communication. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 23, 11:2501-2506
Selected media coverage: The Age (12th October 2010), Australian Geographic (September 21st 2010), ABC 774 (21st September 2010).

Gluckman T-L and Cardoso GC (2009) A method to quantify the regularity of barred plumage patterns. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology, 63:1837-1844.