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Proc Biol Sci. 2007 Sep 7;274(1622):2093-7.

Habitat-dependent call divergence in the common cuckoo: is it a potential signal for assortative mating?

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Department of Zoology, Hungarian Natural History Museum, Bird Collection, Ludovika ter 2-4, Budapest 1083, Hungary.


The common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) is an obligate brood parasite that mimics the eggs of its hosts. The host-specific egg pattern is thought to be inherited matrilinearly, creating female-only host-specific races. Males are thought not to be adapted to their host and they maintain the species by mating arbitrarily with respect to host specialization of females. However, recent results suggest that male cuckoos may also show host-specific adaptations and these may require assortative mating with respect to host. The calls males produce on the breeding grounds could provide a potential mechanism for assortative mating. We tested whether male cuckoo calls differ more between nearby populations that parasitize different hosts than between distant populations that parasitize the same host. We recorded the calls of geographically distant pairs of populations in Hungary, with each pair consisting of a forest population and a nearby reed bed population. Each habitat is characterized by one main host species for the common cuckoo. Our results show that calls of distant cuckoo populations from the same habitat type are more similar to each other than they are to those of nearby populations from a different habitat. These results suggest that cuckoo calls differ sufficiently to allow recognition of habitat-specific individuals.

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