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Department of Zoology

 

Brood parasitism in multi-parasite, multi-host systems

Unlike most birds which build nests and raise their own offspring, brood parasites such as cuckoos lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, and foist the cost of raising their young onto the host. Historically, research into brood parasitism has focussed on understanding interactions between a single parasite and a single host, a classic example being that between the Common Cuckoo and the Reed Warbler which are found in the Cambridgeshire fens. Recent studies have suggested that the wider ecological community can play a critical role in the escalation of a co-evolutionary arms-race between parasite and host. In these situations, how do brood parasite-host interactions operate when multiple brood parasite and multiple host species coexist?

To answer this question, I’m investigating the cuckoos and their respective hosts that are found in southern China and Australia. These regions are both global hotspots for brood parasitism where multiple species of cuckoo breed in sympatry and parasitise multiple passerine host species. Taking a multi-disciplinary approach, including behavioural studies under natural conditions, visual and genetic analyses utilising museum collection resources along with statistical modelling, I aim to understand the behavioural and ecological variables that regulate how brood parasite-host interactions evolve, function and persist.

My PhD is generously funded by the Whitten Studentship in the Department of Zoology.

PhD Student

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