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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Supervisors: Andrea Manica (Zoology) and Will Feeney (University of Queensland

Importance of the area of research:

The interactions between avian brood parasites, such as cuckoos, and their hosts present tractable model systems for studying co-evolutionary processes under natural conditions.

Project summary:

Unlike most birds, which build nests and tend to their offspring, brood parasites exclusively lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, and abandon the care of their young to the host. Hosting a brood parasite is costly and selects defences. In turn, this selects counter-adaptations in the parasites, further counter-adaptations in the hosts, and so on: a coevolutionary  €œarms race €. Hosts are known to actively defend against brood parasites. However, whether the threat of brood parasitism affects subtler phenotypes in hosts, such as their investment in offspring (i.e. maternal effects) remains unknown. Using a combination of phylogenetic comparative analyses, long-term monitoring of host populations and field experiments, we will investigate whether the threat posed by brood parasites influences maternal investment by host individuals and populations.

What the student will do:

This project involves a combination of collecting and analysing field data, both correlational and experimental, as well as using phylogenetic comparative analysis.

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Feeney WE, Welbergen JA, Langmore NE. 2014b. Advances in the study of coevolution between avian brood parasites and their hosts. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 45: 227-246.

Feeney WE, Medina I, Somveille M, Heinsohn R, Hall ML, Mulder RA, Stein JA, Kilner RM, Langmore NE. 2013. Brood parasitism and the evolution of cooperative breeding in birds. Science 342: 1506-1508.

Follow this link to find out about applying for this project.

Other projects available from the Lead Supervisor can be viewed here.

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