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      “cu-coo”: Can You Recognize My Stepparents? – A Study of Host-Specific Male Call Divergence in the Common Cuckoo

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          The presence of multiple host-specific races in the common cuckoo Cuculus canorus has long been recognized as an evolutionary enigma but how this genetic divergence could be maintained is still equivocal. Some recent studies supported biparental genetic contribution in maintaining the host-races, implying the necessity that they should recognize and mate assortatively with those who belong to the same host-race. One potential mechanism to accomplish this is that males may produce distinctive calls according to host-specific lineages. In order to test this hypothesis, we carried out a comparative study for male cuckoo calls recorded from three distant populations, where two populations share a same host species while the other parasitizes a different host species. Populations with similar habitat structures, maintaining comparable distance interval ( ca. 150 km) between neighboring ones, were selected so as to minimize any other causes of vocal differentiation except the pattern of host use. By comparing the vocal characteristics of male cuckoos at the level of individual as well as population, we found that individual males indeed produced different calls in terms of spectral and temporal features. However, these differences disappeared when we compared the calls at the population level according to host species and geographic location. In conclusion, it seems unlikely for the cuckoos to identify the stepparent of male cuckoos based solely on the vocal characteristics, although they may be able to use this cue for individual recognition. Future studies including detailed morphological and genetic comparisons will be worthwhile to further elucidate this issue.

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          Most cited references 7

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          Arms races between and within species.

          An adaptation in one lineage (e.g. predators) may change the selection pressure on another lineage (e.g. prey), giving rise to a counter-adaptation. If this occurs reciprocally, an unstable runaway escalation or 'arms race' may result. We discuss various factors which might give one side an advantage in an arms race. For example, a lineage under strong selection may out-evolve a weakly selected one (' the life-dinner principle'). We then classify arms races in two independent ways. They may be symmetric or asymmetric, and they may be interspecific or intraspecific. Our example of an asymmetric interspecific arms race is that between brood parasites and their hosts. The arms race concept may help to reduce the mystery of why cuckoo hosts are so good at detecting cuckoo eggs, but so bad at detecting cuckoo nestlings. The evolutionary contest between queen and worker ants over relative parental investment is a good example of an intraspecific asymmetric arms race. Such cases raise special problems because the participants share the same gene pool. Interspecific symmetric arms races are unlikely to be important, because competitors tend to diverge rather than escalate competitive adaptations. Intraspecific symmetric arms races, exemplified by adaptations for male-male competition, may underlie Cope's Rule and even the extinction of lineages. Finally we consider ways in which arms races can end. One lineage may drive the other to extinction; one may reach an optimum, thereby preventing the other from doing so; a particularly interesting possibility, exemplified by flower-bee coevolution, is that both sides may reach a mutual local optimum; lastly, arms races may have no stable and but may cycle continuously. We do not wish necessarily to suggest that all, or even most, evolutionary change results from arms races, but we do suggest that the arms race concept may help to resolve three long-standing questions in evolutionary theory.
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            Host-race formation in the common cuckoo

            The exploitation of a new host by a parasite may result in host-race formation or speciation. A brood parasitic bird, the common cuckoo, is divided into host races, each characterized by egg mimicry of different host species. Microsatellite DNA markers were used to examine cuckoo mating patterns and host usage in an area where a new host has been recently colonized. Female cuckoos show strong host preferences, but individual males mate with females that lay in the nests of different hosts. Female host specialization may lead to the evolution of sex-linked traits such as egg mimicry, even though gene flow through the male line prevents completion of the speciation process.
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              Genetic evidence for female host-specific races of the common cuckoo.

              The common cuckoo Cuculus canorus is divided into host-specific races (gentes). Females of each race lay a distinctive egg type that tends to match the host's eggs, for instance, brown and spotted for meadow pipit hosts or plain blue for redstart hosts. The puzzle is how these gentes remain distinct. Here, we provide genetic evidence that gentes are restricted to female lineages, with cross mating by males maintaining the common cuckoo genetically as one species. We show that there is differentiation between gentes in maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA, but not in microsatellite loci of nuclear DNA. This supports recent behavioural evidence that female, but not male, common cuckoos specialize on a particular host, and is consistent with the possibility that genes affecting cuckoo egg type are located on the female-specific W sex chromosome. Our results also support the ideas that common cuckoos often switched hosts during evolution, and that some gentes may have multiple, independent origins, due to colonization by separate ancestral lineages.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                6 March 2014
                : 9
                : 3
                Korea Institute of Ornithology & Department of Biology, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Republic of Korea
                Virginia Tech Virginia, United States of America
                Author notes

                Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

                Conceived and designed the experiments: JWL. Performed the experiments: JWL. Analyzed the data: WJJ JWL. Wrote the paper: WJJ JWL JCY.


                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                Page count
                Pages: 7
                This research was supported by Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF; funded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (NRF-2012R1A6A3A04040003). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
                Research Article
                Behavioral Ecology
                Evolutionary Biology
                Evolutionary Processes
                Animal Behavior
                Behavioral Ecology
                Evolutionary Ecology
                Animal Behavior



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