Display Settings:


Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Proc Biol Sci. 2007 Jun 22;274(1617):1553-60.

The evolution of sexual dimorphism in parasitic cuckoos: sexual selection or coevolution?

Author information

  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK. ok212@cam.ac.uk


Sexual dimorphism is ubiquitous in animals and can result from selection pressure on one or both sexes. Sexual selection has become the predominant explanation for the evolution of sexual dimorphism, with strong selection on size-related mating success in males being the most common situation. The cuckoos (family Cuculidae) provide an exceptional case in which both sexes of many species are freed from the burden of parental care but where coevolution between parasitic cuckoos and their hosts also results in intense selection. Here, we show that size and plumage differences between the sexes in parasitic cuckoos are more likely the result of coevolution than sexual selection. While both sexes changed in size as brood parasitism evolved, we find no evidence for selection on males to become larger. Rather, our analysis indicates stronger selection on parasitic females to become smaller, resulting in a shift from dimorphism with larger females in cuckoos with parental care to dimorphism with larger males in parasitic species. In addition, the evolution of brood parasitism was associated with more cryptic plumage in both sexes, but especially in females, a result that contrasts with the strong plumage dimorphism seen in some other parasitic birds. Examination of the three independent origins of brood parasitism suggests that different parasitic cuckoo lineages followed divergent evolutionary pathways to successful brood parasitism. These results argue for the powerful role of parasite-host coevolution in shaping cuckoo life histories in general and sexual dimorphism in particular.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Images from this publication.See all images (5)Free text

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Icon for HighWire Icon for PubMed Central
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk