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Brood parasitism

Neural Adaptations

Parasitic cowbirds (Molothrus sp.) have evolved specialised cognitive mechanisms to deal with the spatial demands associated with their reproduction. Parasites patrol their home range, remembering the location and status of potential host nests, and updating this information after each egg is laid ñ a process known as book-keeping. Seasonal and sexual variations in the performance of book-keeping are associated with specific anatomical changes in the hippocampal formation, a neural structure involved in spatial memory processing. Previous work in the lab has investigated the histology and chemistry of cowbird neuroplasticity in greater detail.

Relevant Publications

Nair-Roberts, R., J. Erichsen, et al. (2006). "The distribution of Substance P reveals a novel subdivision in the hippocampus of parasitic South American cowbirds." Journal of Comparative Neurology 496: 610-626.

Ney-Nifle, M., C. Bernstein, et al. (2005). "Population dynamics and avian brood parasitism: persistence and invasions in a three-species system." Journal of Animal Ecology 74(2): 274-284.