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Recognition Errors and Probability of Parasitism Determine Whether Reed Warblers Should Accept or Reject Mimetic Cuckoo Eggs

N. B. Davies, M. De L. Brooke and A. Kacelnik
Proceedings: Biological Sciences
Vol. 263, No. 1372 (Jul. 22, 1996), pp. 925-931
Published by: Royal Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/50576
Page Count: 7
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Recognition Errors and Probability of Parasitism Determine Whether Reed Warblers Should Accept or Reject Mimetic Cuckoo Eggs
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Abstract

Reed warblers sometimes make recognition errors when faced with a mimetic cuckoo egg in their nest and reject one or more of their own eggs rather than the foreign egg. Using the framework of signal detection theory, we analyse responses to model eggs to quantify the costs and benefits of acceptance versus rejection in parasitized and unparasitized nests. We show that below a threshold of 19-41% parasitism, the warblers should accept mimetic cuckoo eggs because the costs of rejection outweigh the benefits, whereas above this threshold they should reject. The warblers behaved as predicted; when they saw a cuckoo at their nest they usually showed rejection, but without the sight of the cuckoo they behaved appropriately for the average parasitism rate in Britain (6%) and tended to accept.

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