Students & Associates
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
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.
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
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
(i) How deceptive signallers use
feedback from their receivers behaviour to vary their communication
(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, M.de 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.
Brooke, M.de 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
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
Copyright: Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology 2014
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