Robert Payne

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Robert Payne

Professor Emeritus of Zoology
Curator Emeritus of Birds

Office Location(s): 3019 Museums Building
Phone: 734.647.2208
Fax: 734.763.4080
Lab Phone: 734.764.0457

  • Affiliation(s)
    • Museum of Zoology
  • Fields of Study
    • Behavioral ecology and evolution, bird song and systematics
  • About

    Research interests

    My research interests include the social behavior and systematics of birds. I am interested in dispersal, parental care, cooperative behavior and brood parasitism, including phylogenetic estimates of parasites and hosts, behavioral mimicry and behavioral imprinting, sexual selection and the biology of bird song.

    I do fieldwork in Africa and do experimental behavior work in my laboratory and aviaries at the University of Michigan. My fieldwork tests hypotheses about the behavioral and evolutionary associations of brood-parasitic birds and their hosts, which rear the young "parasites" as their own.

    My experimental research tests parental care behavior in potential and real hosts of the African brood parasites and the behavior development of the parasitic finches. In cross-fostering experiments we imprint the young of another indigobird species V. chalybeata to goldbreast, replicating an evolutionary novel host-parasite association like that in the ancestor of V raricola.

    In field research we sample the geographic variation in host-parasite associations in West Africa and test the genetic variation, evolutionary histories and the rates of speciation and associations of host-brood parasite associations in these and other brood parasitic birds. The experiments replicate the field context where a brood-parasitic finch switches to a new host species and this initiates a speciation event.

    Academic background

    I completed the B.S. at the University of Michigan in 1960, and the Ph.D. at the University of California (Berkeley) in 1965. I have done fieldwork in Africa beginning with a NSF postdoctoral fellowship for two years at the University of Cape Town, and have continued with shorter periods of fieldwork. I have done fieldwork in Western Australia for three years, and in Michigan for 20 years on population studies of indigo buntings and their brood-parasitic brown-headed cowbirds.