Adaptations in the common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) to host eggs in a multiple-hosts system of brood parasitism

Fugo Takasu, Csaba MoskÁt, A. Roman Muñoz, Sadao Imanishi, Hiroshi Nakamura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Citations (Scopus)


The common cuckoo Cuculus canorus parasitism greatly reduces the reproductive success of its hosts and imposes strong selection pressure for hosts to evolve defences against parasitism, such as the ability to recognize and reject dissimilar parasitic eggs, which, in turn, selects for better egg mimicry by the cuckoo. In the co-evolutionary interaction, however, it remains unknown how the cuckoo successfully expanded its range of host usage and how they developed egg mimicry. Most previous studies were conducted in areas where a very few number of host species (i.e. one or two at most) are sympatric with the cuckoo. Several host species, however, breed sympatric with the cuckoo and have been parasitized in the study site in Nagano, central Japan. Such a multiple-hosts system will provide valuable insights for understanding the cuckoo-hosts interactions in the past. In the present study, we report quantitative profiles of eggs based on spectrometer reflectance for four major host species and the corresponding cuckoo gentes. The hosts include the oriental reed warbler (Acrocephalus orientalis), bull-headed shrike (Lanius bucephalus), azure-winged magpie (Cyanopica cyana), and black-faced bunting (Emberiza spodocephala). We show that (1) egg morphs of each host and corresponding cuckoo gens can be categorized by two chromatic components of reflectance spectra and (2) there is a significant difference in a particular chroma component between hosts and the cuckoo. We suggest that the cuckoo parasitism in central Japan originated from parasitism on the black-faced bunting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-300
Number of pages10
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1 2009


  • Co-evolution
  • Mimicry
  • Morph
  • Range
  • Reflectance spectra

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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