Developmental asynchrony and host species identity predict variability in nestling growth of an obligate brood parasite: A test of the growth-tuning hypothesis

S. K. Winnicki, B. M. Strausberger, N. D. Antonson, D. E. Burhans, J. Lock, A. M. Kilpatrick, M. E. Hauber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Generalist obligate brood parasites are excellent models for studies of developmental plasticity, as they experience a range of social and environmental variation when raised by one of their many hosts. Parasitic Brown-headed Cow-birds (Molothrus ater (Boddaert, 1783)) exhibit host-specific growth rates, yet Cowbird growth rates are not predicted by hosts incubation or brooding periods. We tested the novel growth-tuning hypothesis which predicts that total asynchrony between Cowbirds and hosts nesting periods results in faster parasitic growth in nests where host young fledge earlier than Cowbirds. We tested this prediction using previously published and newly added nestling mass data across diverse host species. Total nesting period asynchrony (summed across incubation and brooding stages) predicted Cowbird growth; 8-day-old Cowbirds were heavier in host nests with relatively shorter nesting periods. We further explored the drivers of variation in growth using mass measurements of Cowbirds in Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia (A. Wilson, 1810)) and Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus (Linnaeus, 1766)) nests. Our top models included host species (Cowbirds grew faster in Sparrow nests), numbers of nestmates (slowest when raised alone), and sex (males grew faster). These results con-firm that multiple social and environmental factors predict directional patterns of developmental plasticity in avian generalist brood parasites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-220
Number of pages8
JournalCanadian journal of zoology
Volume99
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2021

Keywords

  • Agelaius phoeniceus
  • Brood parasitism
  • Brown-headed Cowbird
  • Development
  • Growth
  • Melospiza melodia
  • Molothrus ater
  • Offspring
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Song Sparrow

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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