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Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr Thomas Flower

Dr Thomas Flower
PhD (University of Cambridge, UK), MSc (University of Pretoria, SA), BSc Hons (University of Bristol, UK)

John Day Building: 2.18
Tel: +27 (0)21 650 3306
Fax: +27 (0)21 650 3295


Research interests

Tomís principal research interest is in behavioural ecology, specifically the function of animal behaviour and the adaptive mechanisms that result in its production. Tomís research has investigated deceptive communication, cooperative breeding, kleptoparasitism and vocal mimicry. Tom is additionally involved in the conservation of a critically endangered bird, the Raso Lark.

About Tom

Tom did his PhD at the University of Cambridge with Prof. Nick Davies investigating the ecology of kleptoparasitism by Fork-tailed drongos. Tom has also undertaken work for the Kalahari Meerkat Project run by Prof. Tim Clutton-Brock (University of Cambridge) and Prof. Marta Manser (University of Zurich), investigating the evolutionary causes and ecological consequences of cooperative breeding in meerkats (Suricata suricatta). Tomís MSc research considered the factors affecting competition for food in meerkats and more specifically, whether meerkats use competition for food as a means of suppressing their reproductive competitors. Tom has also worked on conservation of the critically endangered Raso Lark, whose entire population is confined to a single island in the Cape Verdeís off the west coast of Africa.

Tom joined the Fitz in January 2012 to begin a postdoctoral research fellowship investigating the strategies employed by animals in deceptive communication. Tom uses a combination of observations and experiments to investigate the deceptive alarm calling behaviour of a habituated and ringed population of wild Fork-tailed Drongos (Dicrurus adsimilis) in the southern Kalahari Desert. This work is undertaken in collaboration with Dr Amanda Ridley (University of Western Australia) and Prof. Phil Hockey. Tomís previous PhD research showed that drongos steal food from other animals (kleptoparasitism) and commonly do so by producing false alarm calls, including mimicked alarms of other species, which cause targeted individuals to drop their food and flee to cover. But just as in Aesopís fable ĎThe boy who cried wolfí, other species cease responding to drongo alarm calls when false alarms are made too often. However, drongos may evade this problem by employing vocal mimicry to vary their false alarm calls and thus keep their deception racket going. This fascinating behaviour raises a number of important questions about animal communication and Tom is currently investigating:

(i) How deceptive signallers use feedback from their receivers behaviour to vary their communication strategies.
(ii) How drongos acquire the ability to produce deceptive alarm calls.

Tom is indebted to Dr Amanda Ridley for initially establishing a population of ringed and habituated drongos at the Kuruman River Reserve where research is undertaken. The Kuruman River Reserve also hosts the Pied Babbler Research Project run by Dr Ridley and the Kalahari Meerkat Project run by Prof. Tim Clutton-Brock and Prof. Marta Manser. It has therefore been possible to closely observe drongo interactions with the habituated populations of pied babblers (Turdoides bicolor) and meerkats (Suricata suricatta), studied by these projects which has greatly assisted drongo research.

Recent peer-reviewed publications


Flower, T.P., Child, M.F. & Ridley, A.R. 2013. The ecological economics of kleptoparasitism: pay-offs from self-foraging versus kleptoparasitism. Journal of Animal Ecology 82:245-255.


Brooke, L., Flower, T.P., Campbell, E.M., Mainwaring, M.C., Davies, S. & Welbergen, J. A. 2012. Rainfall-related population growth and adult sex ratio change in the Critically Endangered Raso lark (Alauda razae). Animal Conservation doi:10.1111/j.14691795.2012.00535.x

Flower, T.P. & Gribble, M. 2012. Kleptoparasitism by attacks versus false alarm calls in fork-tailed drongos. Animal Behaviour 83:403-410.

Flower, T.P. 2012. Fork-tailed drongos use deceptive mimicked alarm calls to steal food. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 2011 278, 1548-1555.

Nielsen, J.F., English, S., Goodale-Copestake, W.P., Wang, J., Walling, C.A., Bateman, A. W., Flower, T.P., Sutcliffe, R.L., Samson, J., Thavarajah, N.K., Kruuk, L.E., Clutton-Brock, T.H. & Pemberrton, J.M. (in press). Inbreeding and inbreeding depression of early life traits in a cooperative mammal. Molecular Ecology. doi: 10.11.11/J.1365-294X.2012.05565.x


Flower, T.P. 2011. Fork-tailed drongos use deceptive mimicked alarm calls to steal food. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences. 278:1548-1555.


Brooke, L., Flower, T.P. & Mainwaring, M.C. 2010. Scarcity of females may constrain population growth of threatened bird species: case notes from the Critically Endangered Raso Lark Alauda razae. Bird Conservation International 20:382-384.

Clutton-Brock, T.H., Hodge, S.J., Flower, T.P., Spong, G.F. & Young, A.J. 2010. Adaptive Suppression of Subordinate Reproduction in Cooperative Mammals. The American Naturalist, 176:664-673. doi: 10.1086/656492

Last modified: 2014/07/07
Copyright: Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology 2014
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