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Anim Behav. 2000 Apr;59(4):877-883.

Egg rejection in a passerine bird: size does matter.

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Department of Biology-0116, University of California


Avian brood parasites reduce the reproductive success of their hosts, selecting for the evolution of egg discrimination by the host, and potentially creating a coevolutionary arms race between host and parasite. Host egg discrimination ability is crucial in determining whether the arms race results in extinction (of the parasite on a particular host) or stable coevolutionary equilibrium of the host-parasite pair. I examined egg discrimination behaviour in the yellow-browed leaf warbler, Phylloscopus humei, a presumed former host of parasitic cuckoos, to show how discrimination ability has become very strong. Field experiments using model eggs demonstrate that rejection decisions are based on the relative size of eggs in the clutch. Individuals do not learn the particular size of their own eggs, but will accept both large and small eggs as long as all eggs in the clutch are of similar size. Host rejection decisions are continuously modified based on assessment of variation in egg sizes currently in the clutch, making it a difficult strategy for a cuckoo to defeat.


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