Increased egg-nest visual contrast does not induce egg ejection in the eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe), an accepter host of the brood parasitic brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater)

Zachary Aidala, Bill M. Strausberger, Mark Erno Hauber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Hosts of obligate brood parasitic birds can offset the costs of parasitism by rejecting foreign eggs. Like the vast majority of brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) hosts, the eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) paradoxically incurs substantial fitness costs by accepting cowbird parasitism. We investigated whether acceptance of brown-headed cowbird eggs may be mediated via lack of recognition due to crypsis in eastern phoebe nests, and whether egg-rejection behavior could be induced by manipulating egg-nest visual contrast as a means of facilitating parasitic egg detection in an artificial parasitism experiment. We found that brown-headed cowbird eggs have significantly lower achromatic, but not chromatic, visual contrast against the natural nest lining relative to phoebe eggs, suggesting that cowbird eggs may be cryptic in the low ambient light environments of natural or artificial covered ledges where eastern phoebes tend to nest. We also found that despite successfully increasing egg-nest visual contrast in our treatment, eastern phoebes did not reject model parasitic eggs. Our findings are consistent with previous work showing that increased egg-nest visual contrasts do not increase parasitic egg discriminability and rejection in hosts of avian brood parasites. Because sensory modeling showed that eastern phoebes were predicted to be able to visually perceive natural and experimental parasitism events, these hosts are suggested to lack the cognitive flexibility necessary to reject dissimilar eggs in their nests. Future work should determine whether this and other accepter species can be made to reject parasitism by using a more diverse array of artificial egg stimuli.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)46-55
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Comparative Psychology
Volume133
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2019

Fingerprint

Phoebe
Saturn
Molothrus ater
Eggs
Ovum
nest
nests
egg
parasitism
Costs and Cost Analysis
Birds
egg rejection
Parasites
Color
crypsis
Light
parasites
color
birds
cost

Keywords

  • Brood parasitism
  • Egg rejection
  • Visual ecology
  • Visual modeling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)

Cite this

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title = "Increased egg-nest visual contrast does not induce egg ejection in the eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe), an accepter host of the brood parasitic brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater)",
abstract = "Hosts of obligate brood parasitic birds can offset the costs of parasitism by rejecting foreign eggs. Like the vast majority of brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) hosts, the eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) paradoxically incurs substantial fitness costs by accepting cowbird parasitism. We investigated whether acceptance of brown-headed cowbird eggs may be mediated via lack of recognition due to crypsis in eastern phoebe nests, and whether egg-rejection behavior could be induced by manipulating egg-nest visual contrast as a means of facilitating parasitic egg detection in an artificial parasitism experiment. We found that brown-headed cowbird eggs have significantly lower achromatic, but not chromatic, visual contrast against the natural nest lining relative to phoebe eggs, suggesting that cowbird eggs may be cryptic in the low ambient light environments of natural or artificial covered ledges where eastern phoebes tend to nest. We also found that despite successfully increasing egg-nest visual contrast in our treatment, eastern phoebes did not reject model parasitic eggs. Our findings are consistent with previous work showing that increased egg-nest visual contrasts do not increase parasitic egg discriminability and rejection in hosts of avian brood parasites. Because sensory modeling showed that eastern phoebes were predicted to be able to visually perceive natural and experimental parasitism events, these hosts are suggested to lack the cognitive flexibility necessary to reject dissimilar eggs in their nests. Future work should determine whether this and other accepter species can be made to reject parasitism by using a more diverse array of artificial egg stimuli.",
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N2 - Hosts of obligate brood parasitic birds can offset the costs of parasitism by rejecting foreign eggs. Like the vast majority of brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) hosts, the eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) paradoxically incurs substantial fitness costs by accepting cowbird parasitism. We investigated whether acceptance of brown-headed cowbird eggs may be mediated via lack of recognition due to crypsis in eastern phoebe nests, and whether egg-rejection behavior could be induced by manipulating egg-nest visual contrast as a means of facilitating parasitic egg detection in an artificial parasitism experiment. We found that brown-headed cowbird eggs have significantly lower achromatic, but not chromatic, visual contrast against the natural nest lining relative to phoebe eggs, suggesting that cowbird eggs may be cryptic in the low ambient light environments of natural or artificial covered ledges where eastern phoebes tend to nest. We also found that despite successfully increasing egg-nest visual contrast in our treatment, eastern phoebes did not reject model parasitic eggs. Our findings are consistent with previous work showing that increased egg-nest visual contrasts do not increase parasitic egg discriminability and rejection in hosts of avian brood parasites. Because sensory modeling showed that eastern phoebes were predicted to be able to visually perceive natural and experimental parasitism events, these hosts are suggested to lack the cognitive flexibility necessary to reject dissimilar eggs in their nests. Future work should determine whether this and other accepter species can be made to reject parasitism by using a more diverse array of artificial egg stimuli.

AB - Hosts of obligate brood parasitic birds can offset the costs of parasitism by rejecting foreign eggs. Like the vast majority of brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) hosts, the eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) paradoxically incurs substantial fitness costs by accepting cowbird parasitism. We investigated whether acceptance of brown-headed cowbird eggs may be mediated via lack of recognition due to crypsis in eastern phoebe nests, and whether egg-rejection behavior could be induced by manipulating egg-nest visual contrast as a means of facilitating parasitic egg detection in an artificial parasitism experiment. We found that brown-headed cowbird eggs have significantly lower achromatic, but not chromatic, visual contrast against the natural nest lining relative to phoebe eggs, suggesting that cowbird eggs may be cryptic in the low ambient light environments of natural or artificial covered ledges where eastern phoebes tend to nest. We also found that despite successfully increasing egg-nest visual contrast in our treatment, eastern phoebes did not reject model parasitic eggs. Our findings are consistent with previous work showing that increased egg-nest visual contrasts do not increase parasitic egg discriminability and rejection in hosts of avian brood parasites. Because sensory modeling showed that eastern phoebes were predicted to be able to visually perceive natural and experimental parasitism events, these hosts are suggested to lack the cognitive flexibility necessary to reject dissimilar eggs in their nests. Future work should determine whether this and other accepter species can be made to reject parasitism by using a more diverse array of artificial egg stimuli.

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