Cuckoos as Indicators of Biodiversity

  • Anders Pape MøllerEmail author
  • Federico Morelli
  • Piotr Tryjanowski
Part of the Fascinating Life Sciences book series (FLS)


Brood parasites constitute a small fraction of all individuals and species of birds in any given community. Cuckoos may constitute unique bioindicators of species richness because the presence of the cuckoo is positively correlated with high values of taxonomic diversity, functional richness and functional evenness of bird communities. A number of studies of common cuckoos Cuculus canorus in Europe and Asia have shown that cuckoos are particularly successful surrogates of biodiversity. These relationships between cuckoo abundance and species richness of birds apply both to cuckoo hosts and non-hosts. Such an ability to indicate biodiversity may arise from unique aspects of the biology of cuckoos including their diet of caterpillar larvae, their parasitic behaviour and their adaptation to a large diversity of hosts. Cuckoo songs are widely known to the general public, and they are repeated ceaselessly during the breeding season. The common cuckoo has since ancient times been considered to reveal the quality of human habitats by reflecting the quality of local living conditions and hence human longevity. In fact, we have documented that this might be the case. The number of repeats of syllables in such songs reliably reflects intrinsic individual quality but also extrinsic habitat quality. Thus different aspects of indicator ability are revealed by different aspects of the ecology of cuckoos. We provide a number of ways in which this approach may be extended to brood parasites and parasites in general.


Biodiversity Conservation Cuckoos Evolutionary diversity Functional biodiversity Hosts Phylogenetic diversity Species richness Song 



To referees, J.D. Ibáñez-Álamo, J.J. Soler and M. Soler, who provided useful comments.


  1. Begon M, Townsend CR, Harper JL (2005) Ecology, 4th edn. Wiley-Blackwell, LondonGoogle Scholar
  2. Brøndegaard VJ (1985) Folk og fauna, vol 2. Rosenkilde og Bagger, CopenhagenGoogle Scholar
  3. Cabeza M, Arponen A, Van Teeffelen A (2007) Top predators: hot or not? A call for systematic assessment of biodiversity surrogates. J Appl Ecol 45:976–980CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Caro TM (2010) Conservation by proxy: indicator, umbrella, keystone, flagship, and other surrogate species. Island Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  5. Catchpole CK, Slater PJ (2008) Bird song: biological themes and variations. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cramp S, Perrins CM (eds) (1986) The birds of the Western Palearctic, vol 5. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  7. de Bello F, Lavorel S, Gerhold P, Reier Ü, Pärtel M (2010) A biodiversity monitoring framework for practical conservation of grasslands and shrublands. Biol Conserv 143:9–17. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Duffy JE, Cardinale BJ, France KE, McIntyre PB, Thébault E, Loreau M (2007) The functional role of biodiversity in ecosystems: incorporating trophic complexity. Ecol Lett 10:522–538. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Erritzøe J, Mann CF, Brammer FP, Fuller RA (2012) Cuckoos of the world. Christopher Helm, LondonGoogle Scholar
  10. Fleishman E, Thomson JR, MacNally R, Murphy DD, Fay JP (2005) Using indicator species to predict species richness of multiple taxonomic groups. Conserv Biol 19:1125–1137. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gaston KJ, Spicer JI (2004) Biodiversity: an introduction, 2nd edn. Blackwell, CornwallGoogle Scholar
  12. Gluckman TL, Mundy NI (2013) Cuckoos in raptors’ clothing: barred plumage illuminates a fundamental principle of Batesian mimicry. Anim Behav 86:1165–1181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Grantham HS, Pressey RL, Wells JA, Beattie AJ (2010) Effectiveness of biodiversity surrogates for conservation planning: different measures of effectiveness generate a kaleidoscope of variation. PLoS One 5:e11430. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  14. Kareiva P, Marvier M (2003) Conserving biodiversity coldspots. Am Sci 91:344–351CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Loyd LR (2010) Bird facts and fallacies: bird legend and superstitions. Hutchinson, LondonGoogle Scholar
  16. Magurran A (2004) Measuring biological diversity. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  17. Marfil-Daza C, Pizarro M, Moreno-Rueda G (2013) Do hot spots of breeding birds serve as surrogate hot spots of wintering birds? An example from central Spain. Anim Conserv 16:60–68. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Martin LC (1993) The folklore of birds. Globe Pequot Press, Old SaybrookGoogle Scholar
  19. Meynard CN, Devictor V, Mouillot D, Thuiller W, Jiguet F, Mouquet N (2011) Beyond taxonomic diversity patterns: how do α, β and γ components of bird functional and phylogenetic diversity respond to environmental gradients across France? Glob Ecol Biogeogr 20:893–903. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Møller AP, Díaz M (2016) Avian preference for close proximity to human habitation and its ecological consequences. Curr Zool.
  21. Møller AP, Antonov A, Stokke BG, Fossøy F, Moksnes A, Røskaft E, Takasu F (2011a) Isolation by time and habitat and coexistence of distinct host races of the common cuckoo. J Evol Biol 24:676–684CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Møller AP, Saino N, Adamík P, Ambrosini R, Antonov A, Campobello D, Stokke BG, Fossøy F, Lehikoinen E, Martin-Vivaldi M, Moksnes A, Moskat C, Røskaft E, Rubolini D, Schulze-Hagen K, Soler M, Shykoff JA (2011b) Rapid change in host use of the common cuckoo Cuculus canorus linked to climate change. Proc R Soc Lond B 278:733–738CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Møller AP, Morelli F, Mousseau TA, Tryjanowski T (2016a) The number of syllables in Chernobyl cuckoo calls reliably indicate habitat, soil and radiation levels. Ecol Indic 66:592–597CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Møller AP, Díaz M, Liang W (2016b) Brood parasitism and proximity to human habitation. Behav Ecol 27:1314–1319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Møller AP, Benedetti Y, Liang W, Morelli F, Su T, Tryjanowski P, Zhou B, Yang C (2017a) Multiple species of cuckoos are superior predictors of bird species richness. Ecosphere 8(11):e02003. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Møller AP, Morelli F, Tryjanowski P (2017b) Cuckoo folklore and human well-being: cuckoo calls predict how long farmers live. Ecol Indic 72:766–768CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Morelli F, Jiguet F, Reif J, Plexida S, Valli AS, Indykiewicz P, Simová P, Tichit M, Moretti M, Tryjanowski P (2015) Cuckoo and biodiversity: testing the correlation between species occurrence and bird species richness in Europe. Biol Conserv 190:123–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Morelli F, Møller AP, Nelson E, Benedetti Y, Liang W, Simova P, Moretti M, Tryjanowski P (2017a) The common cuckoo is an effective indicator of high bird species richness in Asia and Europe. Sci Rep 7:4376CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  29. Morelli F, Møller AP, Nelson E, Benedetti Y, Tichit M, Símova P, Jerzak L, Moretti M, Tryjanowski P (2017b) Cuckoo as indicator of high functional diversity in bird communities: a new paradigm for biodiversity surrogacy. Ecol Indic 72:565–573CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Morelli F, Benedetti Y, Møller AP, Liang W, Carrascal LM (2018) Cuckoos host range is associated positively with distribution range and negatively with evolutionary uniqueness. J Anim Ecol (in press)Google Scholar
  31. Mouchet MA, Villéger S, Mason NWH, Mouillot D (2010) Functional diversity measures: an overview of their redundancy and their ability to discriminate community assembly rules. Funct Ecol 24:867–876. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Noss RF (1990) Indicators for monitoring biodiversity: a hierarchical approach. Conserv Biol 4:355–364. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Payne RB (2005) The cuckoos. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  34. Petchey OL, Gaston KJ (2006) Functional diversity: back to basics and looking forward. Ecol Lett 9:741–758. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Poulin R, Morand S (2005) Parasite biodiversity. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  36. Rodrigues ASL, Brooks TM (2007) Shortcuts for biodiversity conservation planning: the effectiveness of surrogates. Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 38:713–737CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Saino N, Rubolini D, Lehikoinen E, Sokolov LV, Bonisoli-Alquati A, Ambrosini R, Boncoraglio G, Møller AP (2009) Climate change effects on migration phenology may mismatch brood parasitic cuckoos and their hosts. Biol Lett 5:539–541CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  38. Sattler T, Pezzatti GB, Nobis MP, Obrist MK, Roth T, Moretti M (2014) Selection of multiple umbrella species for functional and taxonomic diversity to represent urban biodiversity. Conserv Biol 28:414–426. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Sergio F, Newton I, Marchesi L (2005) Conservation: top predators and biodiversity. Nature 436:192CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Sergio F, Newton I, Marchesi L (2008) Top predators and biodiversity: much debate, few data. J Appl Ecol 45:992–999CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Stephens PA, Mason LR, Green RE, Gregor RD, Sauer JR, Alison J, Aunins A, Brotons L, Butchart SHM, Campedelli T, Chodkiewicz T, Chylarecki P, Crowe O, Elts J, Escandell V, Foppen RPB, Heldbjerg H, Herrando S, Husby M, Jiguet F, Lehikoinen A, Lindström Å, Noble DG, Paquet J-Y, Reif J, Sattler T, Szép T, Teufelbauer N, Trautmann S, van Strien AJ, van Turnhout CAM, Vorisek P, Willis SG (2016) Consistent response of bird populations to climate change on two continents. Science 352:84–87CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Trnka A, Prokop P (2012) The effectiveness of hawk mimicry in protecting cuckoos from aggressive hosts. Anim Behav 83:263–268CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Tryjanowski P, Morelli F (2015) Presence of Cuckoo reliably indicates high bird diversity: a case study in a farmland area. Ecol Indic 55:52–58. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. United Nations Environment Programme, Conservation Monitoring Centre (2015) What is biodiversity? UNEP, New York, NYGoogle Scholar
  45. Venail P, Gross K, Oakley TH, Narwani A, Allan E, Flombaum P, Isbell F, Joshi J, Reich PB, Tilman D, van Ruijven J, Cardinale BJ (2015) Species richness, but not phylogenetic diversity, influences community biomass production and temporal stability in a re-examination of 16 grassland biodiversity studies. Funct Ecol 29:615–626. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Welbergen JA, Davies NB (2011) A parasite in wolf’s clothing: Hawk mimicry reduces mobbing of cuckoos by hosts. Behav Ecol 22:574–579CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Yuzieva K (2014) Bird image in the traditional vision of the Mari people (ethnolinguistic aspect): the cuckoo. Esuka-Jeful 5–2:205–221CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Zsebők S, Moskát C, Bán M (2017) Individually distinctive vocalization in Common Cuckoos (Cuculus canorus). J Ornithol 157:213–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Zupan L, Cabeza M, Maiorano L, Roquet C, Devictor V, Lavergne S, Mouillot D, Mouquet N, Renaud J, Thuiller W (2014) Spatial mismatch of phylogenetic diversity across three vertebrate groups and protected areas in Europe. Divers Distrib 20:674–685. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anders Pape Møller
    • 1
    Email author
  • Federico Morelli
    • 2
  • Piotr Tryjanowski
    • 3
  1. 1.Ecologie Systématique EvolutionUniversité Paris-Sud, CNRS, AgroParisTech,Université Paris-SaclayOrsay CedexFrance
  2. 2.Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Department of Applied Geoinformatics and Spatial PlanningCzech University of Life Sciences PraguePrague 6Czech Republic
  3. 3.Institute of ZoologyPoznan University of Life SciencesPoznańPoland

Personalised recommendations