Research ArticleORGANISMAL BIOLOGY

Success of cuckoo catfish brood parasitism reflects coevolutionary history and individual experience of their cichlid hosts

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Science Advances  02 May 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 5, eaar4380
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aar4380

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Abstract

Obligate brood parasites manipulate other species into raising their offspring. Avian and insect brood parasitic systems demonstrate how interacting species engage in reciprocal coevolutionary arms races through behavioral and morphological adaptations and counteradaptations. Mouthbrooding cichlid fishes are renowned for their remarkable evolutionary radiations and complex behaviors. In Lake Tanganyika, mouthbrooding cichlids are exploited by the only obligate nonavian vertebrate brood parasite, the cuckoo catfish Synodontis multipunctatus. We show that coevolutionary history and individual learning both have a major impact on the success of cuckoo catfish parasitism between coevolved sympatric and evolutionarily naïve allopatric cichlid species. The rate of cuckoo catfish parasitism in coevolved Tanganyikan hosts was 3 to 11 times lower than in evolutionarily naïve cichlids. Moreover, using experimental infections, we demonstrate that parasite egg rejection in sympatric hosts was much higher, leading to seven times greater parasite survival in evolutionarily naïve than sympatric hosts. However, a high rejection frequency of parasitic catfish eggs by coevolved sympatric hosts came at a cost of increased rejection of their own eggs. A significant cost of catfish parasitism was universal, except for coevolved sympatric cichlid species with previous experience of catfish parasitism, demonstrating that learning and individual experience both contribute to a successful host response.

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