Cuckoo: Cheating by Nature
  • Lecture Theatre 1, Roland Levinsky Building, Plymouth University

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The third Annual Plymouth Linnean Lecture will be held jointly between the School of Biological and Marine Sciences and the Linnean Society of London on Wednesday 9 March.

This year’s invited speaker is Professor Nick Davies FRS (Professor of Behavioural Ecology at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Pembroke College). 

Professor Davies’ talk is entitled ‘Cuckoo: Cheating by Nature’, covering the continuing arms race of host defences versus the cuckoo’s parasitic habits. The sight of tiny adult birds such as warblers or pipits feeding enormous cuckoo chicks has astonished observers for centuries. It was once thought that the cuckoo had defective anatomy and behaviour, meaning they were unable to raise their own young and so other birds were only too delighted to help! 

This quaint view was overturned by Darwin, who suggested that the parasitic habit of the cuckoo was advantageous and that the host species was being tricked. 

In this talk, Professor Davies will show how field observations and experiments reveal the continuing arms race, including secrecy and different guises in female cuckoos, forgeries of host eggs and manipulative begging by cuckoo chicks. This is a fascinating corner of Darwin’s “entangled bank”, where creatures are continually adapting to keep up with changes in their rivals.

About the speaker

Professor Nick Davies received his DPhil from Oxford in 1976 and joined the Zoology Department in 1979 as a member of academic staff. His research concerns behavioural ecology – a field he effectively co-defined with John Krebs – including study of a range of organisms including the dunnock (Prunella modularis L.), with regard to reproductive success, the common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus L.) in terms of adaptions as a brood parasite and the counter-adaptions from their host species and the pied wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii L.) with respect to territory economics. He has also studied mate searching and contest behaviour in butterflies and toads and parent-offspring conflict in birds. His awards include the 2015 Croonian Medal and Lecture of the Royal Society, the 2010 the Hamilton Prize Lecture of the International Society for Behavioural Ecology and the 2001 the Frink Medal of the Zoological Society of London. In 2015 he published Cuckoo: Cheating by Nature, a best-selling popular science book due to go into paperback in March 2016. His media work includes working with Sir David Attenborough for an episode of The Natural World (2007) and presenting the 2011 BBC Radio 4 documentary The Cuckoo.

This is a free event that is open to all. Booking is essential via the above link as spaces will be limited.

Registration is from 17:30 with the lecture starting at 18:00. Light refreshments will follow at the end.

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