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Department of Zoology


Many congratulations to Claire Spottiswoode, who has been awarded one of this year's four L'Oreal "Women in Science" Fellowships for her work on the genetics of mimicry in Cuckoo eggs.

The four outstanding female scientists, who are all working on postdoctoral studies, were each awarded fellowships of £15,000 to spend on whatever they may need to continue their research, from buying scientific equipment to paying for childcare or travel. 

They were selected by a jury of eminent scientists, chaired by Professor Dame Athene Donald (DBE, FRS), Professor of Physics and Gender Equality Champion at the University of Cambridge and FWIS Laureate.

Claire is in interested in the genetic underpinnings of coevolution, the process by which two or more species reciprocally influence one another’s evolution. Claire studies brood parasitic birds, such as cuckoos, which are cheats that lay their eggs in other birds' nests. Cuckoos and other brood parasites lay eggs that beautifully mimic those of their chosen host, to trick host parents into accepting the parasitic egg as one of their own .

This research project will attempt to solve a century-old evolutionary puzzle: how do individual females of the same brood parasitic species lay eggs that mimic those of their specialist host, despite interbreeding with males raised by other hosts? Claire hopes to locate the genes involved in mimicry of different host species, by exploiting powerful new genomic methods in combination with breeding experiments on captive Cuckoo Finches that she will study in Zambia.