Inter-Individual Variation in Anti-Parasitic Egg Rejection Behavior: A Test of the Maternal Investment Hypothesis

M. E. Hauber, M. Abolins-Abols, C. R. Kim, R. T. Paitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Synopsis Hosts of avian brood parasites may reduce or forego the costs of caring for foreign young by rejecting parasitic eggs from the nest. Yet, many host species accept parasitic eggs and, even among rejecter species, some individuals go on to incubate and hatch them. The factors explaining the variation in egg rejection between species have received much theoretical and empirical attention, but the causes of intraspecific variation in different individuals propensity for accepting parasitic eggs are less well understood. Here we tested the maternal investment hypothesis, which predicts that hosts with costlier clutches will be more likely to reject parasitic eggs from their nest. We studied variation in the egg rejection responses of American robins (Turdus migratorius), a robust eggrejecter host of the brood parasitic brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater), to 3D-printed cowbird-sized eggs which were painted dark blue, a color known to induce variable and repeatable egg rejection responses in individual robins. Costlier clutch investment was estimated by earlier laying date, larger clutch size, heavier unincubated yolk mass, and variable yolk steroid hormone concentrations. There was no statistical support for most of our predictions. However, we detected more concentrated and greater overall amount of deoxycorticosterone deposited in egg yolks of rejecters relative to acceptors, although this accounted for no more than 14% of variance in the data. Future work should test experimentally the potential physiological linkage between maternal egg yolk steroid investment and egg rejection propensity in this and other host species of avian brood parasites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberobaa014
JournalIntegrative Organismal Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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