Efforts to evaluate the evolutionary and ecological dynamics of conspecific brood parasitism in birds and other animals have focused on the fitness costs of parasitism to hosts and fitness benefits to parasites. However, it has been speculated recently that, in species with biparental care, host males might cooperate with parasitic females by allowing access to the host nest in exchange for copulations. We develop a cost-benefit model to explore the conditions under which such host-parasite cooperation might occur. When the brood parasite does not have a nest of her own, the only benefit to the host male is siring some of the parasitic eggs (quasi-parasitism). Cooperation with the parasite is favored when the ratio of host male paternity of his own eggs relative to his paternity of parasitic eggs exceeds the cost of parasitism. When the brood parasite has a nest of her own, a host male can gain additional, potentially more important benefits by siring the high-value, low-cost eggs laid by the parasite in her own nest. Under these conditions, host males should be even more likely to accept parasitic eggs in return for copulations with the parasitic female. We tested these predictions for American coots (Fulica americana), a species with a high frequency of conspecific brood parasitism. Multilocus DNA profiling indicated that host males did not sire any of the parasitic eggs laid in host nests, nor did they sire eggs laid by the parasite in her own nest. We used field estimates of the model parameters from a four-year study of coots to predict the minimum levels of paternity required for the costs of parasitism to be offset by the benefits of mating with brood parasites. Observed levels of paternity were significantly lower than those predicted under a variety of assumptions, and we reject the hypothesis that host males cooperated with parasitic females. Our model clarifies the specific costs and benefits that influence host-parasite cooperation and, more generally, yields precise predictions about expected levels of host male paternity. These predictions will enable a more rigorous assessment of field studies designed to test adaptive hypotheses of host-parasite cooperation.
Vol. 56 • No. 6
Vol. 56 • No. 6