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Claire Spottiswoode

BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellow and Hans Gadow Lecturer, University of Cambridge

I joined the department in 2002 as a PhD student (supervised by Professor Nick Davies), coming from the University of Cape Town in my home country of South Africa. I've stayed on ever since with the kind support of a series of research fellowships from Sidney Sussex College, The Royal Society, and currently the BBSRC. I am a Senior Research Fellow at Magdalene College.

I'm interested in studying coevolution in the wild, and work mainly on African birds. I try to integrate field experiments with other approaches such as population genetics, sensory ecology, and comparative analyses across species. My current research focus is on coevolutionary arms races between brood parasitic birds (such as cuckoos, honeyguides and parasitic finches) and the host species they exploit to bear the costs of raising their young. In hosts, I am particularly interested in the evolution of defensive adaptations against brood parasites that mimic their eggs, such as visual 'signatures' that are difficult for parasites to forge. In parasites, my collaborators and I are trying to understand the genetic mechanisms that allow a single species of brood parasite to evolve highly specialised adaptations (such as egg mimicry) to exploit multiple host species at once. Most of my research happens at a field site in southern Zambia where I've worked together with a wonderful team of local assistants since 2006, and where several colleagues here in Cambridge now work too.

I'm also more widely interested in the reproductive ecology of birds, and some of my previous and current research topics also include life history evolution, nest camouflage, sexual selection, and bird migration, as well as the ecology of certain threatened species in Africa. I am South African and affiliated as a Research Associate to the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town.


  • –present
    BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellow and Hans Gadow Lecturer, University of Cambridge

Grants and Contracts

  • 2018
    BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellow and Hans Gadow Lecturer
    Funding Source:
    National Research Foundation