Brood parasitism increases provisioning rate, and reduces offspring recruitment and adult return rates, in a cowbird host
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- Hoover, J.P. & Reetz, M.J. Oecologia (2006) 149: 165. doi:10.1007/s00442-006-0424-1
Interspecific brood parasitism in birds presents a special problem for the host because the parasitic offspring exploit their foster parents, causing them to invest more energy in their current reproductive effort. Nestling brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) are a burden to relatively small hosts and may reduce fledgling quality and adult survival. We documented food-provisioning rates of one small host, the prothonotary warbler (Protonotaria citrea), at broods that were similar in age (containing nestlings 8–9 days old), but that varied in composition (number of warbler and cowbird nestlings) and mass, and measured the effect of brood parasitism on offspring recruitment and adult returns in the host. The rate of food provisioning increased with brood mass, and males and females contributed equally to feeding nestlings. Controlling for brood mass, the provisioning rate was higher for nests with cowbirds than those without. Recruitment of warbler fledglings from unparasitized nests was 1.6 and 3.7 times higher than that of fledglings from nests containing one or two cowbirds, respectively. Returns of double-brooded adult male and female warblers decreased with an increase in the number of cowbirds raised, but the decrease was more pronounced in males. Reduced returns of warbler adults and recruitment of warbler fledglings with increased cowbird parasitism was likely a result of reduced survival. Cowbird parasitism increased the warblers’ investment in current reproductive effort, while exerting additional costs to current reproduction and residual reproductive value. Our study provides the strongest evidence to date for negative effects of cowbird parasitism on recruitment of host fledglings and survival of host adults.