Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences
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Parasites and supernormal manipulation

Øistein Haugsten Holen

Øistein Haugsten Holen

Division of Zoology, Department of Biology, University of Oslo, PO Box 1050, Blindern, N-0316 Oslo, Norway

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Glenn-Peter Sætre

Glenn-Peter Sætre

Division of Zoology, Department of Biology, University of Oslo, PO Box 1050, Blindern, N-0316 Oslo, Norway

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Tore Slagsvold

Tore Slagsvold

Division of Zoology, Department of Biology, University of Oslo, PO Box 1050, Blindern, N-0316 Oslo, Norway

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Nils Chr Stenseth

Nils Chr Stenseth

Division of Zoology, Department of Biology, University of Oslo, PO Box 1050, Blindern, N-0316 Oslo, Norway

[email protected]

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Published:https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2001.1818

    Social parasites may exploit their hosts by mimicking other organisms that the hosts normally benefit from investing in or responding to in some other way. Some parasites exaggerate key characters of the organisms they mimic, possibly in order to increase the response from the hosts. The huge gape and extreme begging intensity of the parasitic common cuckoo chick (Cuculus canorus) may be an example. In this paper, the evolutionary stability of manipulating hosts through exaggerated signals is analysed using game theory. Our model indicates that a parasite's signal intensity must be below a certain threshold in order to ensure acceptance and that this threshold depends directly on the rate of parasitism. The only evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) combination is when hosts accept all signallers and parasites signal at their optimal signal intensity, which must be below the threshold. Supernormal manipulation by parasites is only evolutionarily stable under sufficiently low rates of parasitism. If the conditions for the ESS combination are not satisfied, rejector hosts can invade using signal intensity as a cue for identifying parasites. These qualitative predictions are discussed with respect to empirical evidence from parasitic mimicry systems that have been suggested to involve supernormal signalling, including evicting avian brood parasites and insect–mimicking Ophrys orchids.