Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 69, Issue 6, pp 1053–1061 | Cite as

Lazy males and hardworking females? Sexual conflict over parental care in a brood parasite host and its consequences for chick growth

  • Milica PožgayováEmail author
  • Radovan Beňo
  • Petr Procházka
  • Václav Jelínek
  • Marek Mihai Abraham
  • Marcel Honza
Original Paper


Due to the costs of parental care, a conflict of interests often arises between mates wherein each prefers the other to invest more. As with parents raising their own offspring, hosts of brood parasites also exhibit negotiations over investment, becoming particularly intensive when parasite demands are high. Lack of cooperation between the partners may eventually affect the condition and fledging success of the young. Here, we investigate the magnitude of sexual conflict over food provisioning in socially polygynous great reed warblers (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) rearing either a parasitic common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) or their own nestlings and its consequences for chick growth. We found that, overall, males provided less food than females, and that polygynous males provided less food per nest than monogamous males. Moreover, polygynous males provisioning two simultaneous broods supplied their own offspring in relation to age and type (cuckoo/host) of the other brood. Females, unlike males, delivered food amount almost irrespective of social status. The difference in contribution between polygynous males and their mates was most pronounced in nests with a cuckoo. In any case, reduced paternal assistance had no significant effect on growth performance of nestlings. In cuckoos, however, this result may be biased as we could not consider a relatively high proportion of secondary cuckoos that died before their growth parameters could be ascertained. Although not detected in chick growth, host sexual conflict over food provisioning may impose a cost on cuckoos in terms of increased mortality in secondary nests.


Acrocephalus arundinaceus Brood parasitism Cuculus canorus Feeding Parental investment Social polygyny 



We thank P. Baslerová, T. Karasová, M. Čapek, L. Halová, J. Koleček, K. Morongová, Z. Šebelíková, M. Šulc and A. Trnka for their assistance in the field. The suggestions of M. Leonard and two anonymous referees significantly improved earlier versions of the manuscript. K. Roche meticulously polished the English. We are also obliged to the management of Fish Farm Hodonín for their consent to conduct the research on their private land and to local ornithologists for their tolerant approach to our activities. The study was supported by a grant of the Czech Science Foundation (grant number P506/12/2404) and the Institutional Research Plan (RVO: 68081766).

Ethical standards

This study was carried out with the permission of the regional conservation authorities (permit numbers 00312/PA/2008/AOPK and JMK20189/2010). Bird catching and ringing was conducted under licence (numbers 906 and 1058) and followed rules issued by the Czech Bird Ringing Centre. The fieldwork adhered to the Animal Care Protocol of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (numbers 173/2008 and 128/2010) and was in compliance with current Czech Law on the Protection of Animals against Mistreatment (licence numbers V/1/2005/28 and 0008/98-M103).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Alatalo RV, Carlson A, Lundberg A, Ulfstrand S (1981) The conflict between male polygamy and female monogamy: the case of the pied flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca. Am Nat 117:738–753CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Balshine-Earn S, Kempenaers B, Székely T (2002) Conflict and co-operation in parental care. Philos Trans Roy Soc B 357:237–404CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bensch S (1996) Female mating status and reproductive success in the great reed warbler: is there a potential cost of polygyny that requires compensation? J Anim Ecol 65:283–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bensch S, Hasselquist D (1991) Nest predation lowers the polygyny threshold: a new compensation model. Am Nat 138:1297–1306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bensch S, Hasselquist D (1994) Higher rate of nest loss among primary than secondary females: infanticide in the great reed warbler? Behav Ecol Sociobiol 35:309–317CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Campobello D, Sealy SG (2009) Avian brood parasitism in a Mediterranean region: hosts and habitat preferences of common cuckoos Cuculus canorus. Bird Study 56:389–400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Catchpole CK, Leisler B, Winkler H (1985) Polygyny in the great reed warbler, Acrocephalus arundinaceus: a possible case of deception. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 16:285–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clutton-Brock TH (1991) The evolution of parental care. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  9. R Core Team (2012) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria,
  10. Czapka SJ, Johnson LS (2000) Consequences of mate sharing for first-mated females in a polygynous songbird, the house wren. Wilson Bull 112:72–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dyrcz A (1986) Factors affecting facultative polygyny and breeding results in the great reed warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus). J Ornithol 127:447–461CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ferretti V, Winkler DW (2009) Polygyny in the tree swallow Tachycineta bicolor: a result of the cost of searching for an unmated male. J Avian Biol 40:290–295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Forstmeier W, Kuijper DPJ, Leisler B (2001a) Polygyny in the dusky warbler, Phylloscopus fuscatus: the importance of female qualities. Anim Behav 62:1097–1108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Forstmeier W, Leisler B, Kempenaers B (2001b) Bill morphology reflects female independence from male parental help. Proc R Soc Lond B 268:1583–1588CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fournier DA, Skaug HJ, Ancheta J, Ianelli J, Magnusson A, Maunder M, Nielsen A, Sibert J (2012) AD Model Builder: using automatic differentiation for statistical inference of highly parameterized complex nonlinear models. Optim Methods Softw 27:233–249CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Geltsch N, Hauber ME, Anderson MG, Bán M, Moskát C (2012) Competition with a host nestling for parental provisioning imposes recoverable costs on parasitic cuckoo chick’s growth. Behav Process 90:378–383CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Grayson P, Glassey B, Forbes S (2013) Does brood parasitism induce paternal care in a polygynous host? Ethology 119:489–495CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Griggio M, Tavecchia G, Biddau L, Mingozzi T (2003) Mating strategies in the rock sparrow Petronia petronia: the role of female quality. Ethol Ecol Evol 15:389–398CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Grim T (2006) Cuckoo growth performance in parasitized and unused hosts: not only host size matters. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 60:716–723CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Grønstøl G, Hafsmo JE, Byrkjedal I, Lislevand T (2013) Chick growth and survival in northern lapwings Vanellus vanellus indicate that secondary females do the best of a bad job. J Avian Biol 44:376–382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hasselquist D (1998) Polygyny in great reed warblers: a long-term study of factors contributing to male fitness. Ecology 79:2376–2390CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hauber ME, Moskát C (2008) Shared parental care is costly for nestlings of common cuckoos and their great reed warbler hosts. Behav Ecol 19:79–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Holen ØH, Johnstone RA (2007) Parental investment with a superior alien in the brood. J Evol Biol 20:2165–2172CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Honza M, Požgayová M, Procházka P, Cherry MI (2011) Blue-green eggshell coloration is not a sexually selected signal of female quality in an open-nesting polygynous passerine. Naturwissenschaften 98:493–499CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Houston AI, Székely T, McNamara JM (2005) Conflict between parents over care. Trends Ecol Evol 20:33–38CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Huk T, Winkel W (2006) Polygyny and its fitness consequences for primary and secondary female pied flycatchers. Proc R Soc Lond B 273:1681–1688CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jelínek V, Procházka P, Požgayová M, Honza M (2014) Common cuckoos Cuculus canorus change their nest-searching strategy according to the number of available host nests. Ibis 156:189–197Google Scholar
  28. Johnson LS, Kermott LH (1993) Why is reduced male parental assistance detrimental to the reproductive success of secondary female house wrens? Anim Behav 46:1111–1120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Johnson LS, Kermott LH, Lein MR (1993) The cost of polygyny in the house wren Troglodytes aedon. J Anim Ecol 62:669–682CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kleven O, Moksnes A, Røskaft E, Honza M (1999) Host species affects the growth rate of cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) chicks. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 47:41–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kleven O, Moksnes A, Røskaft E, Rudolfsen G, Stokke BG, Honza M (2004) Breeding success of common cuckoos Cuculus canorus parasitizing four sympatric species of Acrocephalus warblers. J Avian Biol 35:394–398CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Leisler B, Wink M (2000) Frequencies of multiple paternity in three Acrocephalus species (Aves, Sylviidae) with different mating systems (A. palustris, A. arundinaceus, A. paludicola). Ethol Ecol Evol 12:237–249CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Leonard M (1990) Polygyny in marsh wrens: asynchronous settlement as an alternative to the polygyny-threshold model. Am Nat 136:446–458CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ligon JD (1999) The evolution of avian breeding systems. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  35. Martin TE (1987) Food as a limit on breeding birds: a life-history perspective. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 18:453–487CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Maynard Smith J (1977) Parental investment: a prospective analysis. Anim Behav 25:1–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Montgomerie RD, Weatherhead PJ (1988) Risk and rewards of nest defence by parent birds. Q Rev Biol 63:167–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Moreno J, Veiga JP, Romasanta M, Sánchez S (2002) Effects of maternal quality and mating status on female reproductive success in the polygynous spotless starling. Anim Behav 64:197–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Moskát C, Honza M (2002) European cuckoo Cuculus canorus parasitism and host’s rejection behaviour in a heavily parasitized great reed warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus population. Ibis 144:614–622CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Olson VA, Liker A, Freckleton RP, Székely T (2008) Parental conflict in birds: comparative analyses of offspring development, ecology and mating opportunities. Proc R Soc Lond B 275:301–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Patterson CB (1991) Relative parental investment in the red-winged blackbird. J Field Ornithol 62:1–18Google Scholar
  42. Payne RB (1977) The ecology of brood parasitism in birds. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 8:1–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pilastro A, Griggio M, Matessi G (2003) Male rock sparrows adjust their breeding strategy according to female ornamentation: parental or mating investment? Anim Behav 66:265--271Google Scholar
  44. Pinxten R, Eens M (1990) Polygyny in the European starling: effect on female reproductive success. Anim Behav 40:1035–1047CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pinxten R, Eens M (1994) Male feeding of nestlings in the facultatively polygynous European starling: allocation patterns and effect on female reproductive success. Behaviour 129:113–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Požgayová M, Procházka P, Honza M (2013) Is shared male assistance with antiparasitic nest defence costly in the polygynous great reed warbler? Anim Behav 85:615–621CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Procházka P, Hudec K (2011) Acrocephalus arundinaceus (Linnaeus, 1758)—Great Reed Warbler—breeding. In: Šťastný K, Hudec K (eds) Fauna of the Czech Republic, Birds 3/I. Academia, Prague, pp 524–528Google Scholar
  48. Redpath SM, Leckie FM, Arroyo B, Amar A, Thirgood SJ (2006) Compensating for the cost of polygyny in hen harriers Circus cyaneus. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 60:386–391CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Ritz C, Streibig JC (2005) Bioassay analysis using R. J Stat Softw 12:1–22Google Scholar
  50. Rodrigues M (1996) Parental care and polygyny in the chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita. Behaviour 133:1077–1094CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rothstein SI (1990) A model system for coevolution: avian brood parasitism. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 21:81–508CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sandell MI (1998) Female aggression and the maintenance of monogamy-female behaviour predicts male mating status in European starlings. Proc R Soc Lond B 265:1307–1311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Schielzeth H (2010) Simple means to improve the interpretability of regression coefficients. Methods Ecol Evol 1:103–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sejberg D, Bensch S, Hasselquist D (2000) Nestling provisioning in polygynous great reed warblers (Acrocephalus arundinaceus): do males bring larger prey to compensate for fewer nest visits? Behav Ecol Sociobiol 47:213–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Smith HG, Sandell MI (1998) Intersexual competition in a polygynous mating system. Oikos 83:484–495CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Starck JM, Ricklefs RE (eds) (1998) Avian growth and development. Evolution within the altricial–precocial spectrum. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  57. Trnka A, Prokop P (2011) Polygynous great reed warblers Acrocephalus arundinaceus suffer more cuckoo Cuculus canorus parasitism than monogamous pairs. J Avian Biol 42:192–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Trnka A, Prokop P, Batáry P (2010) Infanticide or interference: does the great reed warbler selectively destroy eggs? Ann Zool Fenn 47:272–277CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Trnka A, Požgayová M, Procházka P, Prokop P, Honza M (2012) Breeding success of a brood parasite is associated with social mating system of its host. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 66:1187–1194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Urano E (1990) Factors affecting the cost of polygynous breeding for female great reed warblers Acrocephalus arundinaceus. Ibis 132:584–594CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Veiga JP (2004) Replacement female house sparrows regularly commit infanticide: gaining time or signaling status? Behav Ecol 15:219–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Whittingham LA (1989) An experimental study of paternal behavior in red-winged blackbirds. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 25:73–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Yasukawa K, McClure JL, Boley RA, Zanocco J (1990) Provisioning of nestlings by male and female red-winged blackbirds, Agelaius phoeniceus. Anim Behav 40:153–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Milica Požgayová
    • 1
    Email author
  • Radovan Beňo
    • 1
    • 2
  • Petr Procházka
    • 1
  • Václav Jelínek
    • 1
  • Marek Mihai Abraham
    • 1
    • 2
  • Marcel Honza
    • 1
  1. 1.Academy of Sciences of the Czech RepublicInstitute of Vertebrate BiologyBrnoCzech Republic
  2. 2.Faculty of Sciences, Institute of Botany and ZoologyMasaryk UniversityBrnoCzech Republic

Personalised recommendations