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The physiology of avian host-parasite interactions, and cuckoo embryo energetics

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Certain species of cuckoo are obligate avian brood parasites, laying their eggs in host’s nests and playing no role in the provisioning of their progeny. Many cuckoo eggs hatch before their hosts, and the altricial chick evicts host eggs and/or nestlings.
This eviction behaviour is achieved by pushing the eggs or nestlings over the edge of the nest, typically using the back and neck. Such actions require impressive strength, and suggest cuckoos have a different development physiology both to their hosts, and altricial hatchlings in general.

This project will aim to understand how cuckoo embryos are able to develop quicker than their hosts, and grow such strong musculature. Experiments will focus on the degree of embryonic movements during development, gas exchange and metabolic rate during incubation.
The project will also aim to develop novel techniques for measuring eggshell thickness and studying the mobilisation of eggshell calcium for bone development of the embryo.

The project will involve fieldwork in Panama, Czech Republic and Ithica (USA), in collaboration with Dr. Christine Riehl (Harvard) Dr. Marcel Honza (Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic) and Prof. Mark Hauber (Hunter College New York), in association with Dr. Claire Spottiswoode (University of Cambridge). The student will also spend time working with the egg collection at the Natural History Museum, Tring.

Research: http://sjportugal.wordpress.com/; https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/steve-portugal(1440de30-110a-4f0c-8981-419d652dfe90).html


Portugal, S.J., Hauber M. E., Maurer, G., Stokke, B. G., Grim, T. & Cassey, P. (2014) Early hatching of an avian brood parasites embryo cannot be explained by enhanced gaseous exchange across the eggshell. Journal of Zoology. 293: 219-226.

Maurer, G., Portugal, S.J., Hauber, M.E., Miksik, I., Russell, D.G. & Cassey, P. (2015) First light for avian embryos: eggshell thickness and pigmentation mediate variation in development and UV exposure in wild bird eggs. Functional Ecology. 29: 209-218.

How good is research at Royal Holloway, University of London in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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