Colour, vision and coevolution in avian brood parasitism

Mary Caswell Stoddard, Mark E. Hauber

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


The coevolutionary interactions between avian brood parasites and their hosts provide a powerful system for investigating the diversity of animal coloration. Specifically, reciprocal selection pressure applied by hosts and brood parasites can give rise to novel forms and functions of animal coloration, which largely differ from those that arise when selection is imposed by predators or mates. In the study of animal colours, avian brood parasite–host dynamics therefore invite special consideration. Rapid advances across disciplines have paved the way for an integrative study of colour and vision in brood parasite–host systems.We now know that visually driven host defences and host life history have selected for a suite of phenotypic adaptations in parasites, including mimicry, crypsis and supernormal stimuli. This sometimes leads to visionbased host counter-adaptations and increased parasite trickery. Here, we review vision-based adaptations that arise in parasite–host interactions, emphasizing that these adaptations can be visual/sensory, cognitive or phenotypic in nature. We highlight recent breakthroughs in chemistry, genomics, neuroscience and computer vision, and we conclude by identifying important future directions. Moving forward, it will be essential to identify the genetic and neural bases of adaptation and to compare vision-based adaptations to those arising in other sensory modalities. This article is part of the themed issue ‘Animal coloration: production, perception, function and application’.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20160339
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1724
StatePublished - 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • Animal coloration
  • Avian vision
  • Brood parasitism
  • Coevolution
  • Mimicry
  • Sensory ecology


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