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, 19 (6), 1901-10

Rapid Increase in Cuckoo Egg Matching in a Recently Parasitized Reed Warbler Population

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Rapid Increase in Cuckoo Egg Matching in a Recently Parasitized Reed Warbler Population

J M Avilés et al. J Evol Biol.

Abstract

Parasitic cuckoos lay eggs that mimic those of their hosts, and such close phenotypic matching may arise from coevolutionary interactions between parasite and host. However, cuckoos may also explicitly choose hosts in a way that increases degree of matching between eggs of cuckoos and parasites, with female preference for specific host phenotypes increasing the degree of matching. We tested for temporal change in degree of matching between eggs of the parasitic European cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) and its reed warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) host during 24 consecutive years in a recently parasitized reed warbler population. Cuckoo-host egg matching in an ultraviolet-brownness component yielding most of the chromatic variance of eggs improved during the study period. Improved matching was not due to changes in cuckoo egg phenotype. Cuckoo eggs matched host eggs for ultraviolet-brownness within nests irrespective of duration of sympatry. Ultraviolet-brownness of cuckoo eggs was similar to that of reed warbler eggs at parasitized nests, but differed from that of reed warbler eggs at unparasitized nests. These findings provide tentative support for the cuckoo preference hypothesis suggesting that cuckoo-host egg matching could partially be due to cuckoo females selecting host nests based on the appearance of their eggs.

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