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Title: Host learning selects for the coevolution of greater egg mimicry and narrower antiparasitic egg-rejection thresholds

Egg rejection is an effective and widespread antiparasitic defense to eliminate foreign eggs from the nests of hosts of brood parasitic birds. Several lines of observational and critical experimental evidence support a role for learning by hosts in the recognition of parasitic versus own eggs; specifically, individual hosts that have had prior or current experience with brood parasitism are more likely to reject foreign eggs. Here we confirm experimentally the role of prior experience in altering subsequent egg-rejection decisions in the American robin Turdus migratorius, a free-living host species of an obligate brood parasite, the brown-headed cowbird Molothrus ater. We then model the coevolutionary trajectory of both the extent of mimicry of host eggs by parasitic eggs and the host’s egg rejection thresholds in response to an increasing role of learning in egg recognition. Critically, with more learning, we see the evolution of both narrower (more discriminating) rejection thresholds in hosts and greater egg mimicry in parasites. Increasing host clutch size (number of eggs/nest) and increasing parasite load (parasitism rate) also have narrowing effects on the egg-rejection threshold. Together, these results suggest that learning from prior experience with egg rejection may play an important role in the coevolution of egg-mimetic lineages of brood parasites and the refined egg rejection defenses of hosts.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Publisher / Repository:
Oxford University Press
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Evolution Letters
Medium: X Size: p. 413-421
["p. 413-421"]
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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