Tom is now at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Please visit his webpage: http://www.fitzpatrick.uct.ac.za/docs/tom.html
Email:thomas.flower at uct.ac.za
My research investigates adaptive functions for vocal mimicry
in deceptive communication. I am principally interested in
the strategies that signallers employ in deceptive communication,
and how signallers vary their strategy depending upon the
response of receivers. I study a wild population of fork-tailed
drongos (Dicruris adsimilis),
on the Kuruman River Reserve in the South African Kalahari
desert. The Kuruman River Reserve was established by Professor
Tim Clutton-Brock to conduct research on meerkats, and is
now the base for several behavioural ecology research projects.
Fork-tailed drongos commonly associate with mixed species flocks
of other species, which readily respond to the honest or ‘true’
alarm calls made by drongos in response to predators. But fork
tailed drongos also appear to use dishonest or ‘false’
alarm calls to kleptoparasitise food items from the other species
they follow, including meerkats, pied babblers and sociable weavers.
The mechanism used by the fork-tailed drongo is simple: it waits
until a target individual finds a food item, and then emits a
false alarm call. This causes the targeted individual to flee
for cover, enabling the drongo to steal the food item. Furthermore,
it appears that drongos use mimicked alarm calls of other bird
and mammal species in kleptoparasitism.
My PhD therefore investigates the following questions.
- What is the ecological
importance of kleptoparasitism to drongos?
- Do drongos use
deceptive vocal mimicry in kleptoparasitism?
- Do drongos vary
their alarm calling strategy depending upon the response of
the species they are following?
- How do drongos
learn to use deceptive vocal mimicry in kleptoparasitism?
I worked as the field
manager of the Kalahari Meerkat Project in South Africa from 2004
to 2007, run by Professor Tim Clutton-Brock (University of Cambridge)
and Professor Marta Manser (University of Zurich). Research investigated
the ecological causes and evolutionary consequences of cooperative
breeding in mammals. Whilst working at the Kalahari Meerkat Project
I did a 2 year research masters with the University of Pretoria,
investigating competition for food in meerkats.
TP. (2011) Fork-tailed drongos use deceptive mimicked alarm
calls to steal food. Proc. R. Soc. B 278, 1548–1555.
T. H., Hodge, S. J., Flower, T. P. In press. Competition and
kinship in cooperative meerkats.
T. H., Hodge, S. J., & Flower, T. P. 2008. Group size
and the suppression of subordinate reproduction in Kalahari
meerkats. Animal Behaviour,
76, 689 – 700.
- Hodge, S. J., Manica,
A., Flower, T. P., & Clutton-Brock, T. H. 2008. Determinants
of reproductive success in dominant female meerkats.
Journal of Animal Ecology, 77, 92 – 102.
- Flower, T.P. 2007.
Competition for Food in Meerkats (Suricata
suricatta). Msc thesis. University of Pretoria.
- Hodge, S.J., Flower,
T.P. & Clutton-Brock, T.H. 2007. Offspring competition
and helper associations in cooperative meerkats.
Animal Behaviour, 74, 957 – 964.
- Interview for BBC
radio four program ‘Natural Despots’ in 2006.
- Interviews for
Los Angeles Times, Cape Argus and Animal Planet connected
with the TV series Meerkat Manor.
Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street,
Cambridge CB2 3EJ, U. K.