Birds of Indian Subcontinent

Tactics of Parasitic American Coots: Host Choice and the Pattern of Egg Dispersion among Host Nests

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:1993
Authors:Lyon, BE
Journal:Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Date Published:1993
ISBN Number:03405443
Keywords:Fulica, Fulica americana, Fulica atra, Rallidae
Abstract:I examined the tactics adopted by a conspecific brood parasite, the American coot (Fulica americana), and the degree to which these tactics reflect sources of mortality for parasitic eggs. Only 8% of parasitic eggs produced independent offspring, compared to a 35% success rate for non-parasitic eggs, and most mortality was due to egg-rejection by hosts or the consequences of laying eggs too late in the host's nesting cycle. Parasites usually laid parasitically before initiating their own nests and usually parasitized immediate neighbours. Parasites did not remove host eggs before laying their own egg, and egg disappearance in general was not more common at parasitized nests. I found no evidence for non-random host choice, either on the basis of stage of the host's nesting cycle or the host's brood size. The absence of adaptive host choice is likely a consequence of the fact that, due to host limitation, only a small proportion of parasites had meaningful variation among potential hosts to choose from. The pattern of egg dispersion among host nests by individual parasites appears to be a compromise between constraints imposed by host limitation and the increased success obtained from spreading eggs among nests. Most females laying fewer than five parasitic eggs laid them in a single host nest while females laying five or more eggs normally parasitized two or more hosts. An examination of egg rejection and survival rates showed that parasites would maximize success by laying a single egg per host nest, and the pattern of laying several eggs per host nest is likely a consequence of host limitation. However, no egg that was the fifth laid, or later, parasitic egg in a host nest was ever successful and this probably explains why most females laying five or more eggs parasitized more than one host.
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