Studying interactions within and between species provides opportunities to observe consequences of natural selection. Interspecific brood parasitism is a bizarre breeding strategy, in which a parasite manipulates a host from another species to raise its offspring. Brood parasitism is generally costly to the host, and the resulting interactions have produced some of the most charismatic examples of reciprocal evolution in nature.
I have been studying these interactions for the past 3 years, and in this seminar I will discuss some of my findings. Using the Australian superb fairy-wren as a model to study host defences I ask: How do they learn what a cuckoo is? Is recognition specific? Do they change their behaviour when cuckoos are around? And does cooperation help these birds defend their nests against brood parasitism?
I then use the African cuckoo finch, and the Australian Horsfield’s bronze-cuckoo, as models to study parasite counter-adaptations. Adult African cuckoo finches bear a striking resemblance to harmless weavers (little brown birds), and I investigated whether this resemblance had evolved to disguise them from their hosts. The Horsfield’s bronze-cuckoo parasitizes a variety of host species, and I investigated whether their eggs are tailored to be disguised in the nests of these different hosts.