The evolution of clutch size in hosts of avian brood parasites

Iliana Medina*, Naomi E. Langmore, Robert Lanfear, Hanna Kokko

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)
    9 Downloads (Pure)


    Coevolution with avian brood parasites shapes a range of traits in their hosts, including morphology, behavior, and breeding systems. Here we explore whether brood parasitism is also associated with the evolution of host clutch size. Several studies have proposed that hosts of highly virulent parasites could decrease the costs of parasitism by evolving a smaller clutch size, because hosts with smaller clutches will lose fewer progeny when their clutch is parasitized. We describe a model of the evolution of clutch size, which challenges this logic and shows instead that an increase in clutch size (or no change) should evolve in hosts. We test this prediction using a broad-scale comparative analysis to ask whether there are differences in clutch size within hosts and between hosts and nonhosts. Consistent with our model, this analysis revealed that host species do not have smaller clutches and that hosts that incur larger costs from raising a parasite lay larger clutches. We suggest that brood parasitism might be an influential factor in clutch-size evolution and could potentially select for the evolution of larger clutches in host species.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)E112-E123
    Number of pages12
    JournalAmerican Naturalist
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright The University of Chicago 2017. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • clutch size
    • brood parasitism
    • tolerance
    • defenses
    • costs


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