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Thursday, 15 January 2015

Powerful perceived threat by known brood parasite: Superb Fairy Wren study, Feeney & Langmore, The Auk Jan 2015

Superb Fairy-wrens (Malurus cyaneus) increase vigilance near their nest with the perceived risk of brood parasitism

Published by: The American Ornithologists' Union
The Auk 132(2):359-364. 2015 


William E. Feeney 1,2* and Naomi E. Langmore 1
1- Evolution, Ecology and Genetics, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
2- Evolutionary Ecology Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
*Corresponding author:

Brood parasites typically impose costs on their hosts, which select for host defenses. However, where defenses are costly, hosts can benefit by facultative expression of defenses in relation to the risk of parasitism. The results of our model-presentation experiments show that Superb Fairy-wrens (Malurus cyaneus) mediate vigilance around their nest according to their perceived risk of brood parasitism; when the risk of parasitism is high, they increase the time they spend in the vicinity of their nests. In combination with previous studies, these data suggest that Superb Fairy-wrens have a plastic defense portfolio that can be acquired rapidly and deployed facultatively to prevent parasitism while minimizing wasteful investment in defenses in the absence of parasitism.

Arms race, brood parasitism, coevolution, cuckoo, nest defense, vigilance


Time spent within 10 m of the nest by at least 1 Superb Fairy-wren prior to, immediately following, and the day after presentation of a cuckoo or honeyeater model (n = 15 cuckoo and n = 15 honeyeater presentations) in Campbell Park nature reserve, Canberra, Australia (October–December, 2012 and 2013). Error bars denote standard error, and letters denote results of post hoc paired t-tests with Holm-Bonferroni P-value adjustments (trials with the same letter showed no significant post hoc differences).


Superb Fairy-wrens spent more time in the vicinity of their nests in the hour following presentation of a cuckoo model than in the hour before, and this increase was still evident the following day. By contrast, there was no significant change in the amount of time spent near their nest following presentation of a honeyeater model. These data suggest that Superb Fairy-wrens adjust their vigilance around the nest according to the perceived risk of brood parasitism.

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