, 94:441

Host intra-clutch variation, cuckoo egg matching and egg rejection by great reed warblers

  • Michael I. Cherry
  • Andrew T. D. Bennett
  • Csaba Moskát
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00114-007-0216-4

Cite this article as:
Cherry, M.I., Bennett, A.T.D. & Moskát, C. Naturwissenschaften (2007) 94: 441. doi:10.1007/s00114-007-0216-4


Prevailing theory predicts that lower levels of intra-clutch variation in host eggs facilitate the detection of brood parasitism. We assessed egg matching using both human vision and UV-VIS spectrophotometry and then followed the nest fate of great reed warblers naturally parasitised by European cuckoos. Rejection was predicted by the following three variables: matching between cuckoo and host eggs on the main chromatic variable defined by principal components analysis of the egg spectra (which has a strong loading in the UV); the number of host eggs in the nest; and human estimates of intra-clutch variation. The first variable is not correlated to human estimates of matching, which do not predict rejection. In line with another recent study, rejection rates were predicted by higher levels of intra-clutch variation in the host eggs, suggesting that higher rather than lower levels of intra-clutch variation can facilitate the discrimination of cuckoo eggs by hosts. We suggest that the importance of intra-clutch variation is context dependent, with intra-clutch variation being important when there is good matching between the host and the cuckoo eggs. Our results also suggest that both spectrometric and human visual assessments of egg matching and intra-clutch variation are prudent: the former provide the best method of estimating reflectance variation, whereas the latter include some assessment of patterns of maculation.


Cuculus canorus Acrocephalus arundinaceus Brood parasitism Spectrophotometry Human assessment Mimicry Intra-clutch variation Egg discrimination 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael I. Cherry
    • 1
  • Andrew T. D. Bennett
    • 2
  • Csaba Moskát
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Botany and ZoologyUniversity of StellenboschMatielandSouth Africa
  2. 2.School of Biological SciencesBristol UniversityBristolUK
  3. 3.Animal Ecology Research Group of the Hungarian Academy of SciencesHungarian Natural History MuseumBudapestHungary

Personalised recommendations