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Department of Zoology


Stub body


Maternity leave Dec 2014 - Sept 2015

October 2013 - 2019 research fellow (funded by NERC & Society in Science)

2010 - 2013 Postdoctoral research associate of Nick Davies (Cambridge)

2006 - 2010 PhD, supervised by Rebecca Kilner (Cambridge)

2004 - 2006 Research assistant of John Ewen (Institute of Zoology, London)

2002 - 2004 MSc by research thesis (University of Auckland, New Zealand)

1998 - 2002 BA/BSc conjoint degree (Anthropology, Art History, Biology, and Psychology), University of Auckland, New Zealand.


My research explores how information use by individuals shapes the evolution of species and communities.  In the past I have focused on the role of visual and vocal signals for information exchange within families, and how these channels of information might be manipulated. I am now exploring how exploitation of information and variation in information availability influences coevolution of brood parasites and their hosts, and predators and their prey.  See our research website for more on my group's work.

(1)   Signals and the family

Families provide an ideal situation for investigating the evolution of communication.  Together with Becky Kilner and John Ewen (,1091,AR.html) (Institute of Zoology, London), I look at begging signals in avian families, predominantly with the Hihi (Notiomystis cincta), a threatened bird from New Zealand (  I am especially interested in mouth colour, and how this may or may not be related to the availability of carotenoids in the diet.  While carotenoids are important for immune function (as antioxidants), they also provide pigmentation for colourful integuments such as plumage and (potentially) gape colour. However, animals cannot synthesise carotenoids themselves so access to carotenoid-laden foods may regulate the expression of these signals, making them “honest”.  Perhaps most interesting, is how the carotenoid-environment of the parents mediates their responses to the signals of their young.  Carotenoids promote parents’ future reproduction, and this affects the sensitivity of their response to their current offspring’s colourful signals (Thorogood, Ewen, & Kilner 2011). Therefore, future life-history strategies determine current behaviour.

(2)   Exploitation of signals

Interactions between parents and offspring are further complicated when parents are fooled into caring for offspring that are not their own. How do brood-parasitic cuckoos fool their hosts into warming their eggs and raising their young?  Do these strategies differ with host-specificity?  As a Research Fellow at Newnham College I investigated how and why the Shining bronze cuckoo (Chalcites lucidus) uses visual and vocal mimicry of its sole host in New Zealand, the Grey warbler (Gerygone igata).  Shining cuckoos lay a dark green egg which is non-mimetic to the host’s.  With Becky Kilner and Justin Rasmussen (University of Canterbury), we are also asking, why are the eggs of this cuckoo cryptic?

(3)   Information exchange and social learning








In parasite-host interactions, there may be many lines of defence. As a NERC-funded Post-doctoral Research Associate with Prof. Nick Davies, we investigated how interactions between individuals can protect the host’s reproductive investment.  Cuckoos (Cuculus canorus) use visual signals to mimic the Sparrowhawk, a host predator, but reed warblers (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) use social information from their neighbours to tell the difference.  Our results show that this in turn has selected for another cuckoo trick; cuckoo females are polymorphic to beat these host defences. Cuckoos are declining rapidly so we are now investigating how offences and defences vary in our changing world.  

(4)   Plant signals and animal pollination

I am also interested in interactions at the interface of plants and animals. Sandra Anderson ( ) (University of Auckland) and I are exploring how plant-pollinator mutualisms change with the introduction and naturalisation of both in foreign environments. We compare behaviours of birds in New Zealand and the UK to understand how introduced European species adapt as pollinators in modified environments.

Prior to Cambridge:

have worked with Hihi since 2002, for my MSc thesis at the University of Auckland, NZ with Assoc. Prof. Dianne Brunton (now Massey University), and as a research assistant to Dr. John Ewen of the Institute of Zoology, London. I have also been involved in several translocations of various different species of threatened and endangered New Zealand birds, including the re-introduction of Hihi to Karori Wildlife Sanctuary in Wellington, the first population of Hihi on mainland New Zealand since the 1880s. I remain interested in Hihi conservation and exploring the role that behavioural ecology might have to inform conservation decisions.


Key publications: 

Thorogood, R. and Davies, N.B. (2016) Combining personal with social information facilitates host defences and explains why cuckoos should be secretive, Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 19872. 10.1038/srep19872

Thorogood, R. and Davies, N.B. (2013) Reed warbler hosts fine-tune their defences to match three decades of cuckoo decline, Evolution 67, 3545-3555. 10.1111/evo.12213

Thorogood, R. and Davies, N.B. (2012) Cuckoos combat socially transmitted defences of reed warbler hosts with a plumage polymorphism, Science 337, 578-580. 10.1126/science.1220759

Thorogood, R., Ewen, J.G., Kilner, R.M. (2011) Sense and sensitivity: responsiveness to offspring signals varies with the parents’ potential to breed again, Proc R Soc B. 278, 2638-2645. 10.1098/rspb.2010.2594

Ewen, J.G., Thorogood, R., Armstrong, D.P. (2011) Demographic consequences of adult sex ratio in a reintroduced hihi population, J Anim Ecol. 80, 448-455. 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2010.01774.x

Ewen, J.G., Thorogood, R., Brekke, P., Cassey, P., Karadas, F., Armstrong, D.P. (2009) Maternally invested carotenoids compensate costly ectoparasitism in the hihi, Proc Nat Acad Sci U.S.A. 106, 12798-12802. 10.1073/pnas.0902575106

Thorogood, R., Brunton, D., Castro, I. (2009) Simple techniques for sexing nestling hihi (Notiomystis cincta) in the field, NZ J Zool 36, 115–121.

Thorogood, R., Kilner, R. M., Karadas, F., Ewen, J. G. (2008) Spectral mouth colour of nestlings changes with carotenoid availability, Funct Ecol 22, 1044-1051. 10.1111/j.1365-2435.2008.01455.x

Other publications: 

See my google scholar profile for all publications

NERC Independent Research Fellow
Society in Science - Branco Weiss Fellow

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