Host and brood parasite coevolutionary interactions covary with comparative patterns of the avian visual system

Ian J. Ausprey, Mark E. Hauber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In coevolutionary arms-races, reciprocal ecological interactions and their fitness impacts shape the course of phenotypic evolution. The classic example of avian host-brood parasite interactions selects for host recognition and rejection of increasingly mimetic foreign eggs. An essential component of perceptual mimicry is that parasitic eggs escape detection by host sensory systems, yet there is no direct evidence that the avian visual system covaries with parasitic egg recognition or mimicry. Here, we used eye size measurements collected from preserved museum specimens as a metric of the avian visual system for species involved in host-brood parasite interactions. We discovered that (i) hosts had smaller eyes compared with non-hosts, (ii) parasites had larger eyes compared with hosts before but not after phylogenetic corrections, perhaps owing to the limited number of independent evolutionary origins of obligate brood parasitism, (iii) egg rejection in hosts with non-mimetic parasitic eggs positively correlated with eye size, and (iv) eye size was positively associated with increased avian-perceived host-parasite eggshell similarity. These results imply that both host-use by parasites and anti-parasitic responses by hosts covary with a metric of the visual system across relevant bird species, providing comparative evidence for coevolutionary patterns of host and brood parasite sensory systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20210309
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • visual system
  • coevolutionary arms-race
  • residual eye size
  • egg mimicry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Host and brood parasite coevolutionary interactions covary with comparative patterns of the avian visual system'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this