Host defences against cuckoo parasitism and cuckoo trickeries to overcome them are a classic example of antagonistic coevolution. Recently it has been reported that this relationship may turn to be mutualistic in the case of the carrion crow (Corvus corone) and its brood parasite, the great spotted cuckoo (Clamator glandarius), given that experimentally and naturally parasitized nests were depredated at a lower rate than non-parasitized nests. This result was interpreted as a consequence of the antipredatory properties of a fetid cloacal secretion produced by cuckoo nestlings, which presumably deters predators from parasitized host nests. This potential defensive mechanism would therefore explain the detected higher fledgling success of parasitized nests during breeding seasons with high predation risk. Here, in a different study population, we explored the expected benefits in terms of reduced nest predation in naturally and experimentally parasitized nests of two different host species, carrion crows and magpies (Pica pica). During the incubation phase non-parasitized nests were depredated more frequently than parasitized nests. However, during the nestling phase, parasitized nests were not depredated at a lower rate than non-parasitized nests, neither in magpie nor in carrion crow nests, and experimental translocation of great spotted cuckoo hatchlings did not reveal causal effects between parasitism state and predation rate of host nests. Therefore, our results do not fit expectations and, thus, do not support the fascinating possibility that great spotted cuckoo nestlings could have an antipredatory effect for host nestlings, at least in our study area. We also discuss different possibilities that may conciliate these with previous results, but also several alternative explanations, including the lack of generalizability of the previously documented mutualistic association.
Soler, M., De Neve, L., Roldán, M., Pérez-Contreras, T., & José Soler, J. (2017). Great spotted cuckoo nestlings have no antipredatory effect on magpie or carrion crow host nests in southern Spain. PLoS ONE, 12(4). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0173080