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Nest sanitation behavior in hirundines as a pre-adaptation to egg rejection to counter brood parasitism

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Previous studies suggested that nest sanitation behavior may have been a pre-adaptation from which egg rejection of brood parasite eggs evolved. We tested this hypothesis in two swallow species, the red-rumped swallow (Cecropis daurica) and the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica). Our results indicated that the red-rumped swallow, which is an accepter of foreign eggs, rejected a low percentage of non-egg-shaped objects and did so less often than the barn swallow, which is an intermediate rejecter of foreign eggs. Furthermore, the egg rejection rates of the barn swallow increased with the increase in rejection rates of non-egg-shaped objects among different populations. These results showed that nest cleaning behavior could have evolved into a means of reducing the costs of brood parasitism, suggesting that egg recognition ability has evolved from recognition of non-egg-shaped objects. This finding advances our understanding of the evolution of egg recognition behavior in birds.

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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 31260514, 31272328 and 31472013), Program for New Century Excellent Talents in University (NCET-13-0761), Key Project of Chinese Ministry of Education (No. 212136) and Program of International S & T Cooperation (KJHZ2013-12).

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Correspondence to Wei Liang.

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Yang, C., Wang, L., Liang, W. et al. Nest sanitation behavior in hirundines as a pre-adaptation to egg rejection to counter brood parasitism. Anim Cogn 18, 355–360 (2015).

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