Phenotypic Plasticity in Egg Rejection: Evidence and Evolutionary Consequences

  • Francisco Ruiz-RayaEmail author
  • Manuel Soler
Part of the Fascinating Life Sciences book series (FLS)


Rejection of parasitic eggs is the most common and effective defence used by hosts to mitigate the fitness costs imposed by avian brood parasites. Although egg rejection importantly relies on the cognitive abilities of parasitized individuals, both theoretical models and experimental studies have found that some hosts are able to modify their response according to the current conditions of parasitism, which reflects the existence of phenotypic plasticity in host defences. In environments in which the risk of parasitism is variable, plastic responses can be favoured by natural selection as they will allow hosts to avoid potential rejection costs under low risk of parasitism. In this chapter, we review the current evidence of plastic responses in egg rejection and discuss both the evolution and the long-term consequences of phenotypic plasticity for brood parasite–host coevolution. In addition, we suggest addressing the study of egg rejection as a complex process affected by multiple components and governed by decision-making and host motivation, which has important implications for host responses. Despite its apparent benefits, phenotypic plasticity is scarce among host species. Thus, the evolution of phenotypic plasticity in brood parasite–host systems deserves special attention as the maintenance or the loss of plastic responses involves important evolutionary consequences, affecting the long-term outcome of the interaction between brood parasites and their hosts. We conclude this chapter with some suggestions to deal with phenotypic plasticity in future egg-rejection studies.


Egg-rejection process Environmental heterogeneity Decision-making Egg recognition Flexible defences Motivation Risk of parasitism Rejection costs 



We greatly thank Naomi Langmore and Brian Peer, who provided useful comments which significantly improved this chapter.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de Zoología, Facultad de CienciasUniversidad de GranadaGranadaSpain
  2. 2.Grupo Coevolución, Unidad Asociada al CSICUniversidad de GranadaGranadaSpain

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