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Why Does the Frequency of Nest Parasitism by the Cuckoo Differ Considerably Between Two Populations of Warblers Living in the Same Habitat?


Andrzej Dyrcz, Department of Avian Ecology, University of Wroclaw, Sienkiewicza 21, 50-335 Wroclaw, Poland.


The rate of nest parasitism is a product of two interacting phenomena: host selection by cuckoos and defence by hosts. In our study area the rate of nest parasitism by cuckoos is significantly lower in the great reed warbler (GRW; Acrocephalus arundinaceus) than in the reed warbler (RW; A. scirpaceus), even though they breed in the same habitat and their reproductive biology is similar. We hypothesized that the difference in the proportion of parasitized nests may reflect a narrow selection of host by cuckoos (they prefer RW nests) or/and the relatively better alien egg discrimination in the GRW. In the egg discrimination experiment the GRW rejected the higher proportion of alien eggs than the RW. However, in both species the discriminative ability considerably varied in time, both within the day and within the breeding cycle. A logistic regression model suggests that the GRW would be a frequent host if only nest parasites could exploit the period of its lowest sensitivity to alien eggs. We conclude that the relatively low rate of nest parasitism in the GRW may reflect both its good discriminative ability and the low number of cuckoos that are specialized in dumping eggs to nests of this warbler. The adaptation of cuckoos to the particular host species may involve not only production of mimetic eggs, but also adjusting activity to temporal changes in sensitivity to alien eggs in the host.