Evidence of Adaptations and Counter-Adaptations Before the Parasite Lays Its Egg: The Frontline of the Arms Race

  • William E. FeeneyEmail author
Part of the Fascinating Life Sciences book series (FLS)


The interactions between avian brood parasites and their hosts provide tractable model systems to study coevolutionary processes under natural conditions. Here, I review evidence of reciprocal adaptations and counter-adaptations in brood parasites and hosts that are deployed prior to the parasite depositing its egg in the host nest: the ‘frontline’ of the arms race. Unlike interactions at latter stages of the nesting cycle, frontline interactions primarily concern adult brood parasites and adult hosts, offering opportunities to study how exchanges between these species influence adult phenotypes. Placing emphasis on recent advances, I discuss how frontline interactions have shaped the life histories, behaviours, morphologies and physiologies of adult brood parasites and adult hosts. Similar to latter stages of the nesting cycle, frontline interactions comprise diverse adaptations and counter-adaptations that appear to be a product of coevolution and are important for determining the outcome of the exchanges between these species. Further investigation of these interactions is essential for categorizing the diversity of adaptations and counter-adaptations at this stage of the nesting cycle and expanding our understanding of how adaptations and counter-adaptations at all stages of the nesting cycle evolve in relation to one another.


Arms race Brood parasite Coevolution Cowbird Cuckoo Evolution 



WEF would like to thank M. Soler for an invitation to contribute a chapter to this book, as well as B.D. Peer, M. Soler, S.G. Sealy and T. Ryan for helpful comments on the draft. WEF is funded by the Hermon Slade Foundation and the University of Queensland.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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