Individual patterns of habitat and nest-site use by hosts promote transgenerational transmission of avian brood parasitism status

Jeffrey P. Hoover, Mark E. Hauber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


1. Brood parasitic birds impose variable fitness costs upon their hosts by causing the partial or complete loss of the hosts' own brood. Growing evidence from multiple avian host-parasite taxa indicates that exposure of individual hosts to parasitism is not necessarily random and varies with habitat use, nest-site selection, age or other phenotypic attributes. For instance, nonrandom patterns of brood parasitism had similar evolutionary consequences to those of limited horizontal transmission of parasites and pathogens across space and time and altered the dynamics of both population productivity and co-evolutionary interactions of hosts and parasites. 2. We report that brood parasitism status of hosts of brown-headed cowbirds Molothrus ater is also transmitted across generations in individually colour-banded female prothonotary warblers Protonotaria citrea. Warbler daughters were more likely to share their mothers' parasitism status when showing natal philopatry at the scale of habitat patch. Females never bred in their natal nestboxes but daughters of parasitized mothers had shorter natal dispersal distances than daughters of nonparasitized mothers. Daughters of parasitized mothers were more likely to use nestboxes that had been parasitized by cowbirds in both the previous and current years. 3. Although difficult to document in avian systems, different propensities of vertical transmission of parasitism status within host lineages will have critical implications both for the evolution of parasite tolerance in hosts and, if found to be mediated by lineages of parasites themselves, for the difference in virulence between such extremes as the nestmate-tolerant and nestmate-eliminator strategies of different avian brood parasite species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1208-1214
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2007


  • Cowbird
  • Habitat use
  • Host-parasite interactions
  • Prothonotary warbler
  • Virulence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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