Coevolution is linked with phenotypic diversification but not speciation in avian brood parasites.
ABSTRACT: Coevolution is often invoked as an engine of biological diversity. Avian brood parasites and their hosts provide one of the best-known examples of coevolution. Brood parasites lay their eggs in the nests of other species, selecting for host defences and reciprocal counteradaptations in parasites. In theory, this arms race should promote increased rates of speciation and phenotypic evolution. Here, we use recently developed methods to test whether the three largest avian brood parasitic lineages show changes in rates of phenotypic diversity and speciation relative to non-parasitic lineages. Our results challenge the accepted paradigm, and show that there is little consistent evidence that lineages of brood parasites have higher speciation or extinction rates than non-parasitic species. However, we provide the first evidence that the evolution of brood parasitic behaviour may affect rates of evolution in morphological traits associated with parasitism. Specifically, egg size and the colour and pattern of plumage have evolved up to nine times faster in parasitic than in non-parasitic cuckoos. Moreover, cuckoo clades of parasitic species that are sympatric (and share similar host genera) exhibit higher rates of phenotypic evolution. This supports the idea that competition for hosts may be linked to the high phenotypic diversity found in parasitic cuckoos.
Project description:Sexual dimorphism is ubiquitous in animals and can result from selection pressure on one or both sexes. Sexual selection has become the predominant explanation for the evolution of sexual dimorphism, with strong selection on size-related mating success in males being the most common situation. The cuckoos (family Cuculidae) provide an exceptional case in which both sexes of many species are freed from the burden of parental care but where coevolution between parasitic cuckoos and their hosts also results in intense selection. Here, we show that size and plumage differences between the sexes in parasitic cuckoos are more likely the result of coevolution than sexual selection. While both sexes changed in size as brood parasitism evolved, we find no evidence for selection on males to become larger. Rather, our analysis indicates stronger selection on parasitic females to become smaller, resulting in a shift from dimorphism with larger females in cuckoos with parental care to dimorphism with larger males in parasitic species. In addition, the evolution of brood parasitism was associated with more cryptic plumage in both sexes, but especially in females, a result that contrasts with the strong plumage dimorphism seen in some other parasitic birds. Examination of the three independent origins of brood parasitism suggests that different parasitic cuckoo lineages followed divergent evolutionary pathways to successful brood parasitism. These results argue for the powerful role of parasite-host coevolution in shaping cuckoo life histories in general and sexual dimorphism in particular.
Project description:Cuckoos (family Cuculidae) show the highest diversity of breeding strategies within one bird family (parental care, facultative and obligate brood parasites). We used independent contrasts from two phylogenies to examine how this variation was related to 13 ecological and life-history variables. The ancestral state was probably tropical, resident, forest cuckoos with parental care. The evolution of brood parasitism was correlated with a shift to more open habitats, a change in diet, increases in species breeding-range size and migration, and a decrease in egg size. Once parasitism had evolved, more elaborate parasitic strategies (more harmful to host fitness) were correlated with decreased egg size, a change in diet, increased breeding-range size and migration, a shortened breeding season and a decrease in local abundance. Establishing the most probable evolutionary pathways, using the method of Pagel, shows that changes in ecological variables (such as migration, range size and diet type) preceded the evolution of brood parasitism, which is likely to be a later adaptation to reduce the cost of reproduction. By contrast, brood parasitism evolved before changes in egg size occurred, indicating that egg size is an adaptive trait in host--parasite coevolution. Our results suggest that the evolution of cuckoo brood parasitism reflects selection from both ecological pressures and host defences.
Project description:Brood parasitism has evolved independently in several bird lineages, giving rise to strikingly similar behavioural adaptations that suggest convergent evolution. By comparison, convergence of physiological traits that optimize this breeding strategy has received much less attention, yet these species share many similar physiological traits that optimize this breeding strategy. Eggshell structure is important for embryonic development as it controls the flux of metabolic gases, such as O2, CO2 and H2O, into and out of the egg; in particular, water vapour conductance ( GH2O) is an essential process for optimal development of the embryo. Previous work has shown that common cuckoos ( Cuculus canorus) have a lower than expected eggshell GH2O compared with their hosts. Here, we sought to test whether this is a trait found in other independently evolved avian brood parasites, and therefore reflects a general adaptation to a parasitic lifestyle. We analysed GH2O for seven species of brood parasites from four unique lineages as well as for their hosts, and combined this with species from the literature. We found lower than expected GH2O among all our observed brood parasites both compared with hosts (except for brown-headed cowbirds ( Molothrus ater)) and compared with the expected rates given their phylogenetic positions. These findings suggest that a lowered GH2O may be a general adaptation for brood parasitism, perhaps helping the parasite nestling to develop greater aerobic fitness. This article is part of the theme issue 'The coevolutionary biology of brood parasitism: from mechanism to pattern'.
Project description:Parasites that exploit multiple hosts often experience diversifying selection for host-specific adaptations. This can result in multiple strains of host specialists coexisting within a single parasitic species. A long-standing conundrum is how such sympatric host races can be maintained within a single parasitic species in the face of interbreeding among conspecifics specializing on different hosts. Striking examples are seen in certain avian brood parasites such as cuckoos, many of which show host-specific differentiation in traits such as host egg mimicry. Exploiting a Zambian egg collection amassed over several decades and supplemented by recent fieldwork, we show that the brood parasitic Greater Honeyguide Indicator indicator exhibits host-specific differentiation in both egg size and egg shape. Genetic analysis of honeyguide eggs and chicks show that two highly divergent mitochondrial DNA lineages are associated with ground- and tree-nesting hosts, respectively, indicating perfect fidelity to two mutually exclusive sets of host species for millions of years. Despite their age and apparent adaptive diversification, however, these ancient lineages are not cryptic species; a complete lack of differentiation in nuclear genes shows that mating between individuals reared by different hosts is sufficiently frequent to prevent speciation. These results indicate that host specificity is maternally inherited, that host-specific adaptation among conspecifics can be maintained without reproductive isolation, and that host specificity can be remarkably ancient in evolutionary terms.
Project description:Many bird species can reject foreign eggs from their nests. This behaviour is thought to have evolved in response to brood parasites, birds that lay their eggs in the nest of other species. However, not all hosts of brood parasites evict parasitic eggs. In this study, we collate data from egg rejection experiments on 198 species, and perform comparative analyses to understand the conditions under which egg rejection evolves. We found evidence, we believe for the first time in a large-scale comparative analysis, that (i) non-current host species have rejection rates as high as current hosts, (ii) egg rejection is more likely to evolve when the parasite is relatively large compared with its host and (iii) egg rejection is more likely to evolve when the parasite chick evicts all the host eggs from the nest, such as in cuckoos. Our results suggest that the interactions between brood parasites and their hosts have driven the evolution of egg rejection and that variation in the costs inflicted by parasites is fundamental to explaining why only some host species evolve egg rejection.
Project description:Brood parasitism is a breeding strategy adopted by many species of cuckoos across the world. This breeding strategy influences the evolution of life histories of brood parasite species.In this study, we tested whether the degree on diet specialization is related to the breeding strategy in cuckoo species, by comparing brood parasite and nonparasite species. We measured the gradient of diet specialization of cuckoos, by calculating the Gini coefficient, an index of inequality, on the multiple traits describing the diet of species. The Gini coefficient is a measure of statistical dispersion on a scale between 0 and 1, reflecting a gradient from low to high specialization, respectively. First, we tested the strength of the phylogenetic signal of diet specialization index among cuckoo species worldwide. Then, we ran phylogenetic generalized least square (PGLS) models to compare diet specialization, distribution range, and body mass of parasitic and nonparasitic cuckoo species, considering the phylogenetic signal of data.After adjusting for the phylogenetic signal of the data and considering both, species distribution range and species body mass, brood parasitic cuckoos were characterized by higher diet specialization than nonbrood parasitic species. Brood parasitic species were also characterized by a larger breeding distribution range than nonparasitic species.The findings of this study provide an additional understanding of the cuckoos' ecology, relating diet and breeding strategies, information that could be important in conservation ecology.
Project description:Obligate brood-parasitic cheats have fascinated natural historians since ancient times. Passing on the costs of parental care to others occurs widely in birds, insects and fish, and often exerts selection pressure on hosts that in turn evolve defences. Brood parasites have therefore provided an illuminating system for researching coevolution. Nevertheless, much remains unknown about how ecology and evolutionary history constrain or facilitate brood parasitism, or the mechanisms that shape or respond to selection. In this special issue, we bring together examples from across the animal kingdom to illustrate the diverse ways in which recent research is addressing these gaps. This special issue also considers how research on brood parasitism may benefit from, and in turn inform, related fields such as social evolution and immunity. Here, we argue that progress in our understanding of coevolution would benefit from the increased integration of ideas across taxonomic boundaries and across Tinbergen's Four Questions: mechanism, ontogeny, function and phylogeny of brood parasitism. We also encourage renewed vigour in uncovering the natural history of the majority of the world's brood parasites that remain little-known. Indeed, it seems very likely that some of nature's brood parasites remain entirely unknown, because otherwise we are left with a puzzle: if parental care is so costly, why is brood parasitism not more common? This article is part of the theme issue 'The coevolutionary biology of brood parasitism: from mechanism to pattern'.
Project description:When mimicry imposes costs on models, selection may drive the model's phenotype to evolve away from its mimic. For example, brood parasitism often drives hosts to diversify in egg appearance among females within a species, making mimetic parasitic eggs easier to detect. However, when a single parasite species exploits multiple host species, parasitism could also drive host egg evolution away from other co-occurring hosts, to escape susceptibility to their respective mimics. This hypothesis predicts that sympatric hosts of the same parasite should partition egg phenotypic space (defined by egg colour, luminance and pattern) among species to avoid one another. We show that eggs of warbler species parasitized by the cuckoo finch Anomalospiza imberbis in Zambia partition phenotypic space much more distinctly than do eggs of sympatric but unparasitized warblers. Correspondingly, cuckoo finch host-races better match their own specialist host than other local host species. In the weaver family, parasitized by the diederik cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius, by contrast, parasitized species were more closely related and overlapped extensively in phenotypic space; correspondingly, cuckoos did not match their own host better than others. These results suggest that coevolutionary arms races between hosts and parasites may be shaped by the wider community context in which they unfold.
Project description:Natural selection penalizes individuals that provide costly parental care to non-relatives. However, feedings to brood-parasitic fledglings by individuals other than their foster parents, although anecdotic, have been commonly observed, also in the great spotted cuckoo (Clamator glandarius)--magpie (Pica pica) system, but this behaviour has never been studied in depth. In a first experiment, we here show that great spotted cuckoo fledglings that were translocated to a distant territory managed to survive. This implies that obtaining food from foreign magpies is a frequent and efficient strategy used by great spotted cuckoo fledglings. A second experiment, in which we presented a stuffed-cuckoo fledgling in magpie territories, showed that adult magpies caring for magpie fledglings responded aggressively in most of the trials and never tried to feed the stuffed cuckoo, whereas magpies that were caring for cuckoo fledglings reacted rarely with aggressive behavior and were sometimes disposed to feed the stuffed cuckoo. In a third experiment we observed feedings to post-fledgling cuckoos by marked adult magpies belonging to four different possibilities with respect to breeding status (i.e. composition of the brood: only cuckoos, only magpies, mixed, or failed breeding attempt). All non-parental feeding events to cuckoos were provided by magpies that were caring only for cuckoo fledglings. These results strongly support the conclusion that cuckoo fledglings that abandon their foster parents get fed by other adult magpies that are currently caring for other cuckoo fledglings. These findings are crucial to understand the co-evolutionary arms race between brood parasites and their hosts because they show that the presence of the host's own nestlings for comparison is likely a key clue to favour the evolution of fledgling discrimination and provide new insights on several relevant points such as learning mechanisms and multiparasitism.
Project description:Maternal inheritance via the female-specific W chromosome was long ago proposed as a potential solution to the evolutionary enigma of co-existing host-specific races (or 'gentes') in avian brood parasites. Here we report the first unambiguous evidence for maternal inheritance of egg colouration in the brood-parasitic common cuckoo Cuculus canorus. Females laying blue eggs belong to an ancient (?2.6 Myr) maternal lineage, as evidenced by both mitochondrial and W-linked DNA, but are indistinguishable at nuclear DNA from other common cuckoos. Hence, cuckoo host races with blue eggs are distinguished only by maternally inherited components of the genome, which maintain host-specific adaptation despite interbreeding among males and females reared by different hosts. A mitochondrial phylogeny suggests that blue eggs originated in Asia and then expanded westwards as female cuckoos laying blue eggs interbred with the existing European population, introducing an adaptive trait that expanded the range of potential hosts.