Success of cuckoo catfish brood parasitism reflects coevolutionary history and individual experience of their cichlid hosts.
ABSTRACT: Obligate brood parasites manipulate other species into raising their offspring. Avian and insect brood parasitic systems demonstrate how interacting species engage in reciprocal coevolutionary arms races through behavioral and morphological adaptations and counteradaptations. Mouthbrooding cichlid fishes are renowned for their remarkable evolutionary radiations and complex behaviors. In Lake Tanganyika, mouthbrooding cichlids are exploited by the only obligate nonavian vertebrate brood parasite, the cuckoo catfish Synodontis multipunctatus. We show that coevolutionary history and individual learning both have a major impact on the success of cuckoo catfish parasitism between coevolved sympatric and evolutionarily naïve allopatric cichlid species. The rate of cuckoo catfish parasitism in coevolved Tanganyikan hosts was 3 to 11 times lower than in evolutionarily naïve cichlids. Moreover, using experimental infections, we demonstrate that parasite egg rejection in sympatric hosts was much higher, leading to seven times greater parasite survival in evolutionarily naïve than sympatric hosts. However, a high rejection frequency of parasitic catfish eggs by coevolved sympatric hosts came at a cost of increased rejection of their own eggs. A significant cost of catfish parasitism was universal, except for coevolved sympatric cichlid species with previous experience of catfish parasitism, demonstrating that learning and individual experience both contribute to a successful host response.
Project description:Interspecific brood parasitism occurs in several independent lineages of birds and social insects, putatively evolving from intraspecific brood parasitism. The cuckoo catfish, Synodontis multipunctatus, the only known obligatory non-avian brood parasite, exploits mouthbrooding cichlid fishes in Lake Tanganyika, despite the absence of parental care in its evolutionary lineage (family Mochokidae). Cuckoo catfish participate in host spawning events, with their eggs subsequently collected and brooded by parental cichlids, though they can later be selectively rejected by the host. One scenario for the origin of brood parasitism in cuckoo catfish is through predation of cichlid eggs during spawning, eventually resulting in a spatial and temporal match in oviposition by host and parasite. Here we demonstrate experimentally that, uniquely among all known brood parasites, cuckoo catfish have the capacity to re-infect their hosts at a late developmental stage following egg rejection. We show that cuckoo catfish offspring can survive outside the host buccal cavity and re-infect parental hosts at a later incubation phase by exploiting the strong parental instinct of hosts to collect stray offspring. This finding implies an alternative evolutionary origin for cuckoo catfish brood parasitism, with the parental response of host cichlids facilitating its evolution. This article is part of the theme issue 'The coevolutionary biology of brood parasitism: from mechanism to pattern'.
Project description:The cuckoo catfish, Synodontis multipunctatus, is the only known obligate brood parasite among fishes, exploiting the parental care of mouthbrooding cichlids endemic to Lake Tanganyika. Comparisons of this system to brood parasitism in birds may reveal broader principles that underlie the evolution of this life-history strategy in vertebrates. However, little is known about the features of the cuckoo catfish that enable this species to successfully parasitize cichlids. Here, we examine early ontogeny of the cuckoo catfish and compare it to that of its cichlid hosts as well as a non-parasitic congener. We found that cuckoo catfish embryos develop and hatch in advance of host embryos, and begin feeding on cichlid young just as they start to hatch. Overall timing of ontogeny in the cuckoo catfish was found to be similar to that of the substrate-spawning congener Synodontis lucipinnis, suggesting that more rapid development of the cuckoo catfish relative to cichlids is not a unique adaptation to brood parasitism. However, we found that cuckoo catfish progeny exhibit extensive morphological differences from S. lucipinnis, which may represent adaptations to brood parasitism. These life-history observations reveal both similarities and differences between the cuckoo catfish system and brood parasitism in other lineages. This article is part of the theme issue 'The coevolutionary biology of brood parasitism: from mechanism to pattern'.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Squeaker catfishes (Pisces, Mochokidae, Synodontis) are widely distributed throughout Africa and inhabit a biogeographic range similar to that of the exceptionally diverse cichlid fishes, including the three East African Great Lakes and their surrounding rivers. Since squeaker catfishes also prefer the same types of habitats as many of the cichlid species, we hypothesized that the East African Synodontis species provide an excellent model group for comparative evolutionary and phylogeographic analyses. RESULTS: Our analyses reveal the existence of six major lineages of Synodontis in East Africa that diversified about 20 MYA from a Central and/or West African ancestor. The six lineages show a clear geographic patterning. Two lineages are endemic to Lake Tanganyika (plus one non-endemic representative), and these are the only two Synodontis lineages that diversified further into a small array of species. One of these species is the cuckoo catfish (S. multipunctatus), a unique brood parasite of mouthbrooding haplochromine cichlids, which seems to have evolved in parallel with the radiation of its cichlid host lineage, the Tropheini. We also detect an accelerated rate of molecular evolution in S. multipunctatus, which might be the consequence of co-evolutionary dynamics. CONCLUSION: We conclude that the ancestral lineage of today's East African squeaker catfish fauna has colonized the area before the Great Lakes have formed. This ancestor diversified rapidly into at least six lineages that inhabit lakes and rivers in East Africa. Lake Tanganyika is the only lake harboring a small species flock of squeaker catfishes.
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:Mimicry of a harmless model (aggressive mimicry) is used by egg, chick and fledgling brood parasites that resemble the host's own eggs, chicks and fledglings. However, aggressive mimicry may also evolve in adult brood parasites, to avoid attack from hosts and/or manipulate their perception of parasitism risk. We tested the hypothesis that female cuckoo finches (Anomalospiza imberbis) are aggressive mimics of female Euplectes weavers, such as the harmless, abundant and sympatric southern red bishop (Euplectes orix). We show that female cuckoo finch plumage colour and pattern more closely resembled those of Euplectes weavers (putative models) than Vidua finches (closest relatives); that their tawny-flanked prinia (Prinia subflava) hosts were equally aggressive towards female cuckoo finches and southern red bishops, and more aggressive to both than to their male counterparts; and that prinias were equally likely to reject an egg after seeing a female cuckoo finch or bishop, and more likely to do so than after seeing a male bishop near their nest. This is, to our knowledge, the first quantitative evidence for aggressive mimicry in an adult bird, and suggests that host-parasite coevolution can select for aggressive mimicry by avian brood parasites, and counter-defences by hosts, at all stages of the reproductive cycle.
Project description:Interactions between avian hosts and brood parasites can provide a model for how animals adapt to a changing world. Reed warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) hosts employ costly defenses to combat parasitism by common cuckoos (Cuculus canorus). During the past three decades cuckoos have declined markedly across England, reducing parasitism at our study site (Wicken Fen) from 24% of reed warbler nests in 1985 to 1% in 2012. Here we show with experiments that host mobbing and egg rejection defenses have tracked this decline in local parasitism risk: the proportion of reed warbler pairs mobbing adult cuckoos (assessed by responses to cuckoo mounts and models) has declined from 90% to 38%, and the proportion rejecting nonmimetic cuckoo eggs (assessed by responses to model eggs) has declined from 61% to 11%. This is despite no change in response to other nest enemies or mimetic model eggs. Individual variation in both defenses is predicted by parasitism risk during the host's egg-laying period. Furthermore, the response of our study population to temporal variation in parasitism risk can also explain spatial variation in egg rejection behavior in other populations across Europe. We suggest that spatial and temporal variation in parasitism risk has led to the evolution of plasticity in reed warbler defenses.
Project description:Geographic isolation is suggested to be among the most important processes in the generation of cichlid fish diversity in East Africa's Great Lakes, both through isolation by distance and fluctuating connectivity caused by changing lake levels. However, even broad scale phylogeographic patterns are currently unknown in many non-cichlid littoral taxa from these systems. To begin to address this, we generated restriction-site-associated DNA sequence (RADseq) data to investigate phylogeographic structure throughout Lake Tanganyika (LT) in two broadly sympatric rocky shore catfish species from independent evolutionary radiations with differing behaviors: the mouthbrooding claroteine, Lophiobagrus cyclurus, and the brood-parasite mochokid, Synodontis multipunctatus. Our results indicated contrasting patterns between these species, with strong lake-wide phylogeographic signal in L. cyclurus including a deep divergence between the northern and southern lake basins. Further structuring of these populations was observed across a heterogeneous habitat over much smaller distances. Strong population growth was observed in L. cyclurus sampled from shallow shorelines, suggesting population growth associated with the colonization of new habitats following lake-level rises. Conversely, S. multipunctatus, which occupies a broader depth range, showed little phylogeographic structure and lower rates of population growth. Our findings suggest that isolation by distance and/or habitat barriers may play a role in the divergence of non-cichlid fishes in LT, but this effect varies by species.
Project description:Individuals often vary defences in response to local predation or parasitism risk. But how should they assess threat levels when it pays their enemies to hide? For common cuckoo hosts, assessing parasitism risk is challenging: cuckoo eggs are mimetic and adult cuckoos are secretive and resemble hawks. Here, we show that egg rejection by reed warblers depends on combining personal and social information of local risk. We presented model cuckoos or controls at a pair's own nest (personal information of an intruder) and/or on a neighbouring territory, to which they were attracted by broadcasts of alarm calls (social information). Rejection of an experimental egg was stimulated only when hosts were alerted by both social and personal information of cuckoos. However, pairs that rejected eggs were not more likely to mob a cuckoo. Therefore, while hosts can assess risk from the sight of a cuckoo, a cuckoo cannot gauge if her egg will be accepted from host mobbing. Our results reveal how hosts respond rapidly to local variation in parasitism, and why it pays cuckoos to be secretive, both to avoid alerting their targets and to limit the spread of social information in the local host neighbourhood.
Project description:Brood parasitic cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds' nests, whereafter the young cuckoo hatches, ejects its nest-mates and monopolizes the care of the host parents. Theory predicts that hosts should not evolve to recognize and reject cuckoo chicks via imprinting because of the risk of mistakenly imprinting on a cuckoo chick in their first brood and thereafter always rejecting their own chicks. However, recent studies have revealed that some hosts do reject cuckoo chicks from the nest, indicating that these hosts' recognition systems either do not rely on first brood imprinting, or use cues that are independent of chick phenotype. Here, we investigate the proximate mechanisms of chick rejection behaviour in the large-billed gerygone (Gerygone magnirostris), a host of the little bronze-cuckoo (Chalcites minutillus). We find that gerygones use true template-based recognition based on at least one visual chick trait (the number of hatchling down-feathers), and that this is further mediated by experience of adult cuckoos at the nest during egg-laying. Given the theoretical constraints of acquiring recognition templates via imprinting, gerygones must possess a template of own-chick appearance that is largely innate. This true recognition has facilitated the evolution of very rapid hatchling rejection and, in turn, striking visual mimicry of host young by little bronze-cuckoo chicks.
Project description: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.