Direct and indirect assessment of parasitism risk by a cuckoo host

Welbergen, Justin A., and Davies, Nicholas B. (2012) Direct and indirect assessment of parasitism risk by a cuckoo host. Behavioral Ecology, 23 (4). pp. 783-789.

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When the risk of encountering enemies varies in space or in time, this may select for plasticity of costly defenses. Hosts are known to vary both mobbing of adult cuckoos and egg rejection with spatiotemporal variation in brood parasitism, but it is unclear what parasitism cues they use to guide their defense plasticity. There is evidence that hosts use cuckoo activity near their nests as a direct cue, but cuckoos are secretive and resemble dangerous birds of prey so hosts may use indirect environmental predictors of parasitism too, such as their nest’s proximity to potential cuckoo lookout perches. Here, we compared reed warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus nest defense responses with models of various enemies at a parasitized site and at a site where no common cuckoos Cuculus canorus were present. Reed warblers approached model cuckoos less closely and mobbed them less at the unparasitized site. However, at both sites, the warblers reduced their mobbing in a similar manner with increasing distance to the nearest potential cuckoo perch. The variation in response was specific to cuckoos and was not shown to harmless controls. Thus, hosts use both direct (cuckoo presence) and indirect cues (perch distance) of parasitism risk for modulating their costly defenses against their secretive parasite. We suggest that reciprocal selection for detection and suppression of direct and indirect cues provides a unifying feature of cuckoo–host arms races.

Item ID: 25397
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1465-7279
Keywords: brood parasites, coevolution, direct cues, host defense, indirect cues, phenotypic plasticity
Funders: Natural Environment Research Council
Date Deposited: 12 Mar 2013 05:00
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060201 Behavioural Ecology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 100%
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