Costs of brood parasitism and the lack of defenses on the yellow-winged blackbird - shiny cowbird system
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The shiny cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis) is a generalist brood parasite that lays either white-immaculate or spotted egg morphs in eastern Argentina and Uruguay. Some hosts accept both morphs, others accept spotted eggs and reject the white morph, but no host has been found to accept white eggs and reject spotted ones. It has been suggested that the yellow-winged blackbird (Agelaius thilius) may be that type of host. The finding of a white acceptor-spotted rejector species would help to explain the occurrence and maintenance of the parasite egg polymorphism. We studied the incidence of shiny cowbird parasitism on this host, its costs for their reproductive success and the presence of antiparasitic defenses in the yellow-winged blackbird - shiny cowbird system. The parasite affected the reproductive success of the host in two ways. Cowbirds punctured host eggs causing a reduction in clutch size, and yellow-winged blackbirds deserted their nests whenever they suffered high egg loss. In addition, parasitized nests suffered higher predation during the nestling stage, but not during egg stages, indicating that the difference found was related to the presence of the cowbird chick, and not to higher exposure of parasitized nests to both parasites␣and predators. Despite the costs imposed by the parasite, yellow-winged blackbirds have not evolved antiparasitic defenses. This host did not reject any egg morph of the shiny cowbird nor desert parasitized nests unless it had suffered high egg loss. Current explanations for the host lack of defenses, the “time lag” and the “equilibrium” hypothesis, are discussed.
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