Brood Parasites as Predators: Farming and Mafia Strategies

  • M. SolerEmail author
  • T. Pérez-Contreras
  • J. J. Soler
Part of the Fascinating Life Sciences book series (FLS)


Avian brood parasites may depredate unparasitized host nests in advanced stage (farming strategy) or those of hosts that have rejected the parasitic offspring (mafia strategy). Both predatory strategies induce host renesting, but the benefit of the former is to increase availability of host nests for future parasitism, while the latter imply extra fitness costs to rejecters and, thus, induce hosts to accept parasitism in replacement clutches. Despite clear expected benefits of these strategies, they have been reported only rarely. Mafia has been demonstrated in only two parasitic species, but not all available results confirm it. Results from recent studies indicate that magpies (Pica pica) reject real great spotted cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) eggs less frequently and that cuckoos punished rejecter magpies less frequently now than about 25 years ago. We suggest that costs of retaliatory behaviours together with phenotypic plasticity of magpie and great spotted cuckoo’s defences and counter-defences are the crucial points explaining these differences. Reported geographical and temporal variation in parasitism rates suggests that parasitism by great spotted cuckoos would depend on environmental variables, intensity of host defences or propensity to compliance of magpies. This highly variable risk of parasitism, together with the facultative virulence of cuckoos against rejecters, makes plasticity of antiparasitic defences adaptive in magpies. Understanding the mechanisms underlying the mafia remains elusive. Future studies should concentrate on examining how often and in which context brood parasites prey upon host nests in different host populations and in different brood parasite–host systems.


Farming strategy Host compliance Mafia strategy Parasite retaliation Phenotypic plasticity Plastic defences 



We thank Mark Hauber and Anders P. Møller for their constructive and helpful comments, which have considerably improved our manuscript. While writing this paper, the authors benefit from founding by the Spanish Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación, Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad, European funds (FEDER) (CGL2013-48193-C3-1-P to JJS and the Junta de Andalucía (project RNM610) to MS).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Soler
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • T. Pérez-Contreras
    • 1
    • 2
  • J. J. Soler
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Departamento de Zoología, Facultad de CienciasUniversidad de GranadaGranadaSpain
  2. 2.Grupo Coevolución, Unidad Asociada al CSICUniversidad de GranadaGranadaSpain
  3. 3.Departamento de Ecología Funcional y EvolutivaEstación Experimental de Zonas Áridas (CSIC)AlmeríaSpain

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