Birds of Indian Subcontinent

Mechanism of Egg Recognition in Defenses against Conspecific Brood Parasitism: American Coots (Fulica americana) Know Their Own Eggs

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2007
Authors:Lyon, B
Journal:Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Date Published:2007
ISBN Number:03405443
Keywords:Fulica, Fulica americana, Fulica atra, Rallidae
Abstract:Hosts of avian brood parasites use a variety of defenses based on egg recognition to reduce the costs of parasitism; the most important of which is rejecting the parasitic eggs. Two basic recognition mechanisms are possible: "true recognition", whereby hosts recognize their own eggs irrespective of their relative frequency in the clutch, and minority recognition (or "recognition by discordancy"), whereby hosts respond to the minority egg type. The mechanism of recognition has been experimentally studied in a handful of species parasitized by interspecific brood parasites, but the mechanism used in defenses against conspecific brood parasitism is unknown. I experimentally determined the mechanism of egg recognition in American coots (Fulica americana), a species with high levels of conspecific brood parasitism, egg recognition, and rejection. I swapped eggs between pairs of nests to alter frequencies of host and "parasite" eggs and then used two criteria for recognition: egg rejection and nonrandom incubation positions in the clutch. Eight of 12 nests (66%) given equal frequencies of host and parasite eggs showed evidence of true recognition. In contrast, only one of eight (12.5%) nests where host eggs were in the minority showed evidence of recognition by discordancy. The nonrandom incubation positions of parasitic eggs indicates that birds sometimes recognize parasitic eggs without rejecting them and provides a means of assessing recognition on a per nest basis in species with large clutches. Adaptive recognition without rejection may also be an important evolutionary stepping stone to the evolution of egg rejection in some taxa.
Short Title:Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith