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Rejection of Conspecific Eggs in Chaffinches: The Effect of Age and Clutch Characteristics

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Previous experimental studies have found that the majority of chaffinches, Fringilla coelebs, are able to reject both non-mimetic and mimetic cuckoo eggs and also non-mimetic conspecific eggs. However, interestingly the frequency of rejecters of moderately mimetic conspecific eggs has been found to be only approx. 50%. We examined the possibility that acceptors of moderately mimetic conspecific eggs are first time breeders, because these individuals may lack the experience needed to reject eggs that deviate only slightly from their own eggs. Older individuals, with good knowledge of their own egg appearance, should therefore reject such eggs. We also examined the possibility that acceptors of moderately mimetic eggs have a higher intraclutch variation in egg appearance, which makes it more difficult to recognize such eggs when compared with rejecters. We obtained no support for any age-specific pattern in rejection behaviour. Furthermore, there was no relationship between age and intraclutch variation, or intraclutch variation and rejection behaviour. As there is no evidence of intraspecific brood parasitism in this species, the rejection of any foreign eggs is most probably an adaptation to past cuckoo, Cuculus canorus, parasitism. Acceptance of good and moderately mimetic conspecific eggs is probably due to cognitive limitations, because evolution of a more fine-tuned recognition ability is unnecessary in the absence of intraspecific brood parasitism.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Biology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, NTNU, Trondheim, Norway

Publication date: 2004-06-01

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