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Age-dependent costs of cowbird parasitism in Yellow Warblers (Setophaga petechia)

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Brood parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater (Boddaert, 1783)) often reduces the reproductive success of their hosts. We examined whether the ability of females to avoid or mitigate the costs of brood parasitism improved with age in a population of Yellow Warblers (Setophaga petechia (L., 1766)) breeding near Revelstoke, British Columbia, between 2004 and 2011. Cowbirds parasitized 18% of Yellow Warbler nesting attempts and females rejected 24% of parasitized nests, principally by deserting the nest and initiating a new breeding attempt. We found no evidence that older females were better at avoiding parasitism or more likely to reject parasitized nests than yearlings. On average, brood parasitism reduced clutch sizes by 0.8 eggs, had no effect on nest success, but reduced the number of young fledged from successful nests by 1.3 offspring. Despite age-related improvement in some measures of breeding performance, the costs of brood parasitism at each period of the breeding cycle did not vary with age. There was, however, some evidence, that brood parasitism reduced the annual productivity (total number of young fledged) of older females less than the annual productivity of yearlings suggesting that the cumulative costs of brood parasitism varied with age.

Keywords: Brown-headed Cowbird; Molothrus ater; Setophaga petechia; Yellow Warbler; age; brood parasitism; parasitisme de couvée; paruline jaune; vacher à tête brune; âge

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: April 16, 2013

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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