Publication details

Choosing suitable hosts: common cuckoos Cuculus canorus parasitize great reed warblers Acrocephalus arundinaceus of high quality

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Year of publication 2009
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Evolutionary Ecology
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Science

Keywords Brood parasitism; Cuckoo; Host quality; Host selection; Spectrophotometry
Description We investigated the hypothesis that the common cuckoo Cuculus canorus selects host pairs of good phenotypic quality. As there is some evidence that cuckoos may select hosts within a population non-randomly based on external cues reflecting their foster abilities, we predicted that great reed warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus pairs parasitized by the cuckoo would exhibit higher quality than unparasitized ones. To test this assumption, we evaluated two different parameters indicating host quality: body condition and characteristics of host eggs. We found that parasitized females showed significantly better body condition than unparasitized ones, and the model showed that the probability of being parasitized by the cuckoos increased with increasing body condition. Moreover, the likelihood of being parasitized by a cuckoo within the great reed warbler population increased with decreasing colour variability within clutches: parasitized females allocated costly blue pigments to eggshells more equally compared with unparasitized ones. Our study revealed that cuckoos parasitize great reed warbler females of higher quality, as reflected in host body condition and egg colour characteristics. In highly mimetic systems, cuckoos may choose to parasitize hosts with eggs displaying low intraclutch variation, both because this leads to reduced rejection and because these hosts are of high quality.
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