Factors Affecting the Rates of Coevolution Between Obligate Avian Brood Parasites and Their Hosts

  • Virginia E. Abernathy
  • Naomi E. Langmore
Part of the Fascinating Life Sciences book series (FLS)


Coevolution is a process in which two species, populations, or groups of individuals evolve reciprocal adaptations through their interactions with one another. Obligate avian brood parasitism is a model example of coevolution, and several reviews have discussed the different types of adaptations and counter-adaptations hosts and brood parasites evolve. However, there has been less focus on the rate at which this process proceeds. Here we review factors influencing the rate of coevolution between avian obligate brood parasites and their hosts. We also suggest that evidence from brood parasite coevolution studies concurs with other developments in evolutionary biology more broadly, which indicates that evolution can be a more rapid process than previously recognized and can proceed on a timescale similar to that of ecological dynamics. Finally, we discuss the difficulties of studying rates of coevolution in bird populations empirically and mention current studies that are resolving this problem by focusing on recently parasitized host populations. Understanding how rapidly hosts can evolve defenses to circumvent brood parasitism is an important step in uncovering aspects of speciation, determining which traits are actually indicative of true genetic change, and can aid in conservation decisions of endangered potential hosts, especially as brood parasites expand their breeding ranges with rising global temperatures and other environmental changes.


Coevolution Evolutionary rate Host defenses Obligate brood parasitism Rapid evolution 



We thank A. Edworthy and W. Feeney for their helpful editorial comments on the first version of this manuscript, as well as S. Rothstein and M. Soler whose comments on later versions greatly improved the quality of this review. We are also grateful for funding from the Australian National University and the Australian Research Council (DP110101966).


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Virginia E. Abernathy
    • 1
  • Naomi E. Langmore
    • 1
  1. 1.Ecology and Evolution, Research School of BiologyAustralian National UniversityActonAustralia

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