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Title: Brood parasitism by shiny cowbirds
Author: Gloag, Rosalyn Suzanne
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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Brood parasitic birds lay eggs amongst the clutches of other species, which then assume all costs of parental care on their behalf. This thesis addresses several puzzles of avian brood parasitism, using field studies and theoretical modelling of the generalist parasite, the shiny cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis) and select hosts in Argentina. Key findings and conclusions were: • High parasitism intensity in a host population can result in a cost to hosts of removing parasite eggs from their clutches, and so help to maintain host’s acceptance of parasite eggs in evolutionary equilibrium. The cost is to host egg survival: hosts that remove parasite eggs from the clutch increase the risk that their eggs are destroyed by subsequent parasites that visit the nest. • The principal benefit of mobbing as a front-line defence of hosts may be to reduce egg loss due to parasite attack, rather than prevent parasitism itself. • Differences in the acoustic structure of begging calls between parasites and their host’s young can be to the parasite’s advantage. Parents provisioned unparasitized broods more during broadcast at the nest of shiny cowbird calls than calls of their own species’ chicks, in both a common host and a non-host. The long tremulous quality of a cowbird’s call functions analogously to a rapid call rate, thereby exploiting a common provisioning rule of avian parents. • A trade-off for maximum growth in parasite nestlings will variously favour or not favour the evolution of nestmate-killing behaviour, depending on a parasite’s abilities, relative to host young, to solicit and attain provisions from host parents. Generalist parasites can encounter both sides of the trade-off in different hosts. Meanwhile, indirect fitness costs are unlikely to constrain the evolution of nestmate-killing in shiny cowbirds, as they rarely, if ever, share the nest with siblings.
Supervisor: Kacelnik, Alex Sponsor: Clarendon Fund ; University of Oxford ; Cogito Foundation
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Biology ; Behaviour (zoology) ; Ecology (zoology) ; Evolution (zoology) ; brood parasitism ; social parasitism ; cowbird