Attractive blue-green egg coloration and cuckoo−host coevolution

Authors

  • JUAN J. SOLER,

    Corresponding author
    1. Estación Experimental de Zonas Áridas (C.S.I.C.), Ctra. Sacramento S/N, La Cañada de San Urbano, E-04120 Almería, Spain
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  • JESÚS M. AVILÉS,

    1. Estación Experimental de Zonas Áridas (C.S.I.C.), Ctra. Sacramento S/N, La Cañada de San Urbano, E-04120 Almería, Spain
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  • ANDERS P. MØLLER,

    1. Laboratoire d'Ecologie, Systématique et Evolution, CNRS UMR 8079, Université Paris-Sud, Bâtiment 362, F-91405 Orsay Cedex, France
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  • JUAN MORENO

    1. Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (C.S.I.C.), Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, J. Gutiérrez-Abascal 2, E-28006 Madrid, Spain
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E-mail: jsoler@eeza.csic.es

Abstract

Recent evidence suggests that blue-green coloration of bird eggshells may be related to female and/or egg phenotypic quality, and that such colour may affect parental effort and therefore the nutritional environment of developing nestlings. Here we suggest that these relationships and the signal function of eggshell coloration would affect the outcome of coevolution between avian brood parasites and their hosts in at least three different non-exclusive evolutionary pathways. First, by laying blue-green coloured eggs, cuckoo females may exploit possible sensory biases of their hosts, constraining the evolution of parasitic egg recognition, and thus avoid rejection. Second, because of the relatively high costs of laying blue eggs, cuckoo females may be limited in their ability to mimic costly blue-green eggs of their hosts because cuckoo females lay many more eggs than their hosts. Furthermore, costs associated with foreign egg recognition errors would be relatively higher for hosts laying blue eggs. Third, cuckoos may use coloration of host eggs for selecting individuals or specific hosts of appropriate phenotypic quality (i.e. parental abilities). We here explored some predictions emerging from the above scenarios and found partial support for two of them by studying egg coloration of European cuckoos (Cuculus canorus) and that of their 25 main hosts, as well as parasitism and rejection rate of hosts. Cuckoo hosts parasitized with more blue, green, and ultraviolet cuckoo eggs, or those laying more blue-green eggs, were more prone to accept experimental parasitism with artificial cuckoo eggs. In addition, coloration of cuckoo eggs is more variable when parasitizing hosts laying bluer-greener eggs, even after controlling for the effect of host egg coloration (i.e. degree of egg matching). Globally, our results are consistent with the proposed hypothesis that host egg traits that are related to phenotypic quality of hosts, such as egg coloration, may have important implications for the coevolutionary interaction between hosts and brood parasites. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, 106, 154–168.

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