University of Oulu

Jere Tolvanen, Jukka T. Forsman, Robert L. Thomson, Reducing cuckoo parasitism risk via informed habitat choices, The Auk, Volume 134, Issue 3, 1 July 2017, Pages 553–563,

Reducing cuckoo parasitism risk via informed habitat choices

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Author: Tolvanen, Jere1; Forsman, Jukka T.1; Thomson, Robert L.2,3
Organizations: 1Department of Ecology and Genetics, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
2Section of Ecology, Department of Biology, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
3FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, DST-NRF Centre of Excellence, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.6 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Oxford University Press, 2017
Publish Date: 2020-04-23


Brood parasitism incurs severe fitness costs for hosts. Diverse host adaptations to avoid parasitism exist at various stages of the host breeding cycle, but the literature suggests that egg-stage defenses are the most evolved. Fitness costs of parasitism would be minimized if hosts avoided parasitism prior to egg laying, but it remains unclear whether hosts are able to reduce parasitism risk via informed habitat choices. We conducted a playback experiment to examine the capability of forest passerine birds to perceive vocal cues of the Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) to estimate local parasitism risk and adjust their breeding-habitat choices accordingly. The density of open-nesting host species was considerably lower in sites of high perceived parasitism risk than in control sites. Hosts thus seem able to reduce parasitism risk through informed breeding-habitat choices, but this behavior is restricted to open-nesting hosts. Cavity-nesting hosts did not respond to the simulated increase in parasitism risk, nor did bird species that are not known as regular Common Cuckoo hosts. Informed habitat selection as an adaptation against parasitism may have important implications for parasite–host coevolutionary interactions, via reduced selection for later-stage host adaptations, and for bird community structure in general.

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El parasitismo de cría causa costos severos para la aptitud de los hospederos. Existen diversas adaptaciones de los hospederos para evitar el parasitismo en varias etapas de su ciclo reproductivo, pero con base en la literatura existente, las defensas en la etapa de incubación de los huevos parecen ser las más evolucionadas. Los costos que el parasitismo causa en la aptitud se minimizarían si los hospederos evitaran el parasitismo antes de la puesta de los huevos, pero aún no es claro si los hospederos son capaces de reducir el riesgo de parasitismo por medio de la escogencia de hábitat informada. Hicimos un experimento de reproducción de sonidos previamente grabados para examinar la capacidad de aves canoras de bosque de percibir pistas vocales de Cuculus canorus para estimar el riesgo local de parasitismo y ajustar su escogencia de hábitat reproductivo. La densidad de especies hospederas de nidos abiertos fue considerablemente menor en sitios con percepción de alto riesgo de parasitismo que en los sitios control. Los hospederos parecen ser capaces de reducir el riesgo de parasitismo mediante la escogencia informada del hábitat reproductivo, pero este comportamiento está restringido a las aves con nidos abiertos. Los hospederos que anidan en cavidades no respondieron al incremento simulado en el riesgo de parasitismo, al igual que las especies de aves que no son hospederas frecuentes de C. canorus. La selección informada de hábitat es una adaptación contra el parasitismo que puede tener implicaciones importantes para las interacciones coevolutivas reduciendo la selección a favor de adaptaciones en etapas más tardías del ciclo de vida del hospedero, y para la estructura de comunidades de aves en general.

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Series: Auk
ISSN: 0004-8038
ISSN-E: 1938-4254
ISSN-L: 0004-8038
Volume: 134
Issue: 3
Pages: 553 - 563
DOI: 10.1642/AUK-17-30.1
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
Funding: This work was supported by the Academy of Finland (no. 138049 to R.L.T. and nos. 122665 and 125720 to J.T.F.).
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 122665
Detailed Information: 122665 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
125720 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © 2017 American Ornithological Society. This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced version of an article accepted for publication in Jere Tolvanen, Jukka T. Forsman, Robert L. Thomson, Reducing cuckoo parasitism risk via informed habitat choices, The Auk, Volume 134, Issue 3, 1 July 2017, Pages 553–563 is available online at: