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A game-theoretic model of interspecific brood parasitism with sequential decisions

Harrison, M. D. & Broom, M. (2009). A game-theoretic model of interspecific brood parasitism with sequential decisions. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 256(4), pp. 504-517. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2008.08.033


The interaction between hosts and parasites in bird populations has been studied extensively. This paper uses game-theoretic methods to model this interaction. This has been done in previous papers but has not been studied taking into account the detailed sequential nature of this game. We introduce a model allowing the host and parasite to make a number of decisions which will depend on various natural factors. The sequence of events begins with the host forming a nest and laying a number of eggs, followed by the possibility that a parasite bird will arrive at the nest; if it does it can choose to destroy some of the host eggs and lay one of its own. A sequence of events follows, which is broken down into two key stages; firstly the interaction between the host and the parasite adult, and secondly that between the host and the parasite chick. The final decision involves the host choosing whether to raise or abandon the chicks that are in the nest. There are certain natural parameters and probabilities which are central to these various decisions; in particular the host is generally uncertain whether parasitism has taken place, but can assess the likelihood of parasitism based upon certain cues (e.g. how many eggs remain in its nest). We then use this methodology to model two real-world interactions, that of the Reed Warbler with the Common Cuckoo and also the Yellow Warbler with the Brown-headed Cowbird. These parasites have different methods in the way they parasitize the nests of their hosts, and the hosts can in turn have different reactions to these parasites. Our model predictions generally match the real results well, and the model also makes predictions of the effect of changes in various key parameters on the type of parasitic interactions that should occur.

Publication Type: Article
Publisher Keywords: Animals, Birds, Clutch Size, Decision Making, Game Theory, Host-Parasite Interactions, Models, Biological, Nesting Behavior
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HA Statistics
Q Science > QH Natural history
Departments: School of Science & Technology > Mathematics
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