Postdoc Profile: Thomas Flower, Banting Postdoctoral Fellow
Congratulations to Dr. Thomas Flower, recipient of a prestigious Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship of $70,000 per year for two years to support his research at the Department of Biological Sciences, SFU. Dr. Flower is one of five Banting Fellows at SFU in 2014–15.
In 2014, Dr. Tom Flower made headlines around the world with his research into how African birds named fork-tailed drongos can mimic the 50+ alarm sounds made by over 30 different bird species — and even meerkats — in order to steal the food the fleeing animals leave behind.Dr. Flower's doctoral research in zoology at the University of Cambridge, UK, was on the deceptive abilities displayed by fork-tailed drongos and it then became part of his postdoctoral work at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, South Africa.
He has also worked as a Research Biologist for Cambridge's Raso Lark Conservation Project — the entire population of the critically endangered Raso lark is confined to a single island in the Cape Verde Islands, off the west coast of Africa.
Dr. Flower has a long history of communicating his research. Before his master's degree, he volunteered at the Kalahari Meerkat Project, and subsequently as a project manager to work with Animal Planet film crews working on the TV show Meerkat Manor.
Subsequently, he has contributed to the BBC Africa series by providing advice on storyline development, access to drongos and coordinated shots of drongos. He also contributed through interviews and production assistance to several other BBC nature shows including Animals in Love and an upcoming series entitled Deception. In addition, Dr Flower helped produce a childrens natural history show for NHK Japan entitled ’Darwin has Come! Fork-tailed drongo’.
At SFU, Dr. Flower will be working with Dr. Ronald Ydenberg in the Department of Biology. He will be studying nest predation behaviour by BC’s provincial bird, the Steller’s jay, in order to work out why habitat fragmentation increases nest predation on marbled murrelets, a threatened seabird which nests in old-growth forests. A significant part of his research will be on identifying conservation measures to manage the effects of forestry on marbled murrlets in British Columbia.
Dr. Flower has extensive experience of undertaking observations and experiments on wild birds, monitoring bird nests, using nest cameras and surveying bird abundances. Findings from his research will strongly influenceenvironmental and natural resource managers and greatly improve our understanding of how human land use impacts the natural environment.
He says, “I am extremely grateful for this research opportunity at SFU and look forward to contributing to both our understanding of animal behaviour and the conservation of biodiversity.”
Recording of Dr. Flower's presentation at our Banting Postdocs Day event:
- Google Scholar: Tom Flower
- Doctoral Dissertation: Food theft by deceptive alarm calls in the fork-tailed drongo
- Quirks and Quarks: Interview with Tom Flower on the fork-tailed drongo
- Science: Deception by Flexible Alarm Mimicry in an African Bird (Science press release: African Bird 'Cries Wolf' to Steal Food)
- Smithsonian Magazine: This Bird Tricks Other Animals Into Handing Over Their Meals
- Royal Society Proceedings B: Fork-tailed drongos use deceptive mimicked alarm calls to steal food
- Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology: Thomas Flower, Honorary Research Associate
- Today.com: Meerkat Manor news
- CBC Radio interview: As It Happens
- Dailymotion: Animals in Love, Episode 2 (47 minutes into the show)
- Banting Fellows 2014–2015
Below: Interview with Jonathan Phillips (Yale University) and Tom Flower (Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology)