Egg Rejection and Brain Size among Potential Hosts of the Common Cuckoo


Jesús M. Avilés, Estación Experimental de Zonas Áridas, C.S.I.C, General Segura 1, Almería E-04001, Spain.


Interspecific brood parasitism by the common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) lowers host fitness, and has selected for discrimination and rejection of parasitic eggs in their commonly parasitized hosts. Cognitive demands needed to discriminate and reject cuckoo eggs may have led to augmentation of relative brain size among passerine hosts parasitized by cuckoos. This hypothesis predicts for across species positive relationships of brain size with rejection rate, host suitability and parasitism level. Here we test these predictions while controlling for phylogenetic, ecological and developmental factors known to affect brain size and egg rejection in a comparative study using the cuckoo and their hosts in Europe as a model system. Contrary to expected the rate of rejection of non-mimetic cuckoo eggs covaried negatively with relative brain size across bird species. Either suitability as cuckoo host, which reflects long-time duration of exposure to cuckoo parasitism, and level of parasitism, did not relate to brain size. Our results do not support the hypothesis that cuckoo parasitism was a main direct force affecting brain size variation across passerine hosts.