House sparrows selectively eject parasitic conspecific eggs and incur very low rejection costs

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Most host species of obligate interspecific brood parasites are under strong selection because such parasitism, e.g., that involving evictor nestmates, is highly costly. Egg rejection is one of the most efficient host defences against avian brood parasites. Many hosts have thus evolved egg-recognition ability and rejection behaviour. However, this defensive mechanism has not evolved in most species where only intraspecific brood parasitism occurs, probably because (1) the eggs of conspecific females are very similar in appearance, making egg rejection less likely to emerge, and (2) such parasitism is frequently less costly than interspecific parasitism. Using a captive population of house sparrows (Passer domesticus) with a low breeding density, we here provide new evidence showing that this species actually has a fine capacity to discriminate conspecific eggs and to eject them (44.2% of foreign eggs ejected) while incurring very low rejection costs (4.2% of own eggs ejected). This result contradicts those previously found in high-density house sparrow populations in which very high rejection costs and very high clutch desertion rates were reported, probably as a consequence of intraspecific competition and infanticide provoked by the high breeding density. The house sparrow has only rarely been reported as the host of an interspecific brood parasite, which implies that it is a newly described example of an altricial species in which egg ejection has evolved and is maintained in response to intraspecific brood parasitism.

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We thank Mariola Sánchez, Ismael Lamas, José María Villaescusa, and Orson Acosta for their help in the care of the sparrows. The technicians of the Sciences Faculty at Granada University, especially Fernando Serrano Cabrerizo, always gave us a hand when we needed it. Ernest García improved the English. We also thank Juan D. Ibáñez-Álamo, Anders P. Møller, Juan J. Soler and two anonymous referees for useful comments on the manuscript. Financial support was provided by Junta de Andalucía (to the RNM 339 research group) and by the Spanish Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia/FEDER (research project CGL2007-61940/BOS).

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Correspondence to Manuel Soler.

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Communicated by M. Hauber

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Soler, M., Ruiz-Castellano, C., Fernández-Pinos, M.d. et al. House sparrows selectively eject parasitic conspecific eggs and incur very low rejection costs. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 65, 1997 (2011) doi:10.1007/s00265-011-1209-z

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  • Egg rejection
  • House sparrow
  • Intraspecific brood parasitism
  • Intraspecific competition
  • Passer domesticus
  • Selective ejection