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Response of introduced European birds in New Zealand to experimental brood parasitism


  • Katrina Hale,

  • James V. Briskie

K. Hale (correspondence) and J.V. Briskie, School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand. E-mail:


The loss of anti-parasite adaptations against the European cuckoo Cuculus canorus was studied in three European passerine species, song thrush Turdus philomelos, blackbird T. merula, and chaffinch Fringilla coelebs, introduced to New Zealand in the 19th century. Chaffinches in New Zealand ejected non-mimetic eggs at a rate similar to their source population in the United Kingdom, but both song thrushes and blackbirds in New Zealand rejected non-mimetic eggs at a higher rate than the United Kingdom. It is not clear if this difference reflects variation among hosts in their response to brood parasitism or if it is an artefact of subtle differences in the types of non-mimetic eggs tested. In contrast, all three introduced species showed little aggression to a taxidermic model of a European cuckoo presented at their nests. This differs from European populations of these species, where model cuckoos are typically attacked. Our results suggest that in the∼130 years since their release in New Zealand, introduced birds have lost recognition of the European cuckoo but not their ability to discriminate non-mimetic eggs. The differential loss of anti-parasite adaptations by introduced birds in New Zealand suggests that cyclical models of host/parasite co-evolution may need to take into account the differing rates at which different host adaptations are lost and gained.