THE IMPORTANCE OF CLUTCH CHARACTERISTICS AND LEARNING FOR ANTIPARASITE ADAPTATIONS IN HOSTS OF AVIAN BROOD PARASITES

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Abstract

There is considerable variation in rejection rates of parasitic eggs among hosts of avian brood parasites. In this article, we develop a model that can be used to predict host egg rejection behavior in brood parasite–host systems in general, by considering both intra- and interclutch variation in host egg appearance; clutch characteristics that may be important in calculating the fitness of individuals adopting rejecter or acceptor strategies. In addition, we consider the importance of learning the appearance of own eggs during the first breeding attempt and host probability of survival between breeding seasons on evolution of rejection behavior. Based on this model we can predict at which level of parasitism fitness of rejecter individuals is higher than that of acceptor individuals and vice versa. The model analyses show that variation in egg appearance can be a key factor for the evolution of host defense against parasitism. In more detail, analyses show that we should expect to find a prolonged learning period only in hosts that have a high intraclutch variation in egg appearance, because such hosts may potentially experience high costs in terms of recognition errors. Furthermore, learning is in general more adaptive in parasite–host systems in which hosts do have some reproductive success even when parasitized, and when parasitism rates are moderate. By including variables that have not been considered in previous models, our model represents a useful tool in investigations of host rejection behavior in various host–parasite systems.

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