ABSTRACT

Brood parasitism can decrease the reproductive success of host species and contribute to population declines, especially in small populations with naturally low fecundity. The ability of host species to recognize foreign eggs varies, as do the behavioral responses of hosts to brood parasitism. We experimentally tested the ability of a putative host, the White-breasted Thrasher (Ramphocinclus brachyurus), to recognize and reject the eggs of a recently established generalist brood parasite. The White-breasted Thrasher is an endangered songbird restricted to 2 small Caribbean islands that are not known to ever have supported obligate brood parasites. We experimentally parasitized active nests within the stronghold of the species' distribution in Saint Lucia and found that White-breasted Thrashers rejected 83% of mimetic Shiny Cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis) eggs (i.e., wooden eggs painted to look like Shiny Cowbird eggs) within 5 d of being parasitized. Rejection of mimetic eggs was not associated with nest initiation date, distance to habitat edge or agricultural area, nest-attempt number, or presence of helpers or dependent young. We conclude that White-breasted Thrashers can detect foreign eggs and possess behavioral adaptations to counter brood parasitism, and propose that these anti-parasitism traits are likely retained from ancestors that evolved in the presence of brood parasites. Our results suggest that brood parasitism by Shiny Cowbirds is unlikely to become a major threat to the White-breasted Thrasher in Saint Lucia. However, ongoing anthropogenic land alteration is likely to increase contact between the 2 species, warranting continued monitoring of their nascent relationship.

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