Sibling competition was proposed as an important selective agent in the evolution of growth and development. Brood parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) intensifies sibling competition in the nests of its hosts by increasing host chick mortality and exposing them to a genetically unrelated nestmate. Intranest sibling competition for resources supplied by parents is size dependent. Thus, it should select for high development rates and short nestling periods, which would alleviate negative impacts of brood parasitic chicks on host young. I tested these predictions on 134 North American passerines by comparative analyses. After controlling for covariates and phylogeny, I showed that high parasitism rate was associated with higher nestling growth rate, lower mass at fledging, and shorter nestling periods. These effects were most pronounced in species in which sibling competition is most intense (i.e., weighing over about 30 g). When species were categorized as nonhosts versus old hosts (parasitized for thousands of years) versus new hosts (parasitized the last 100–200 years), there was a clear effect of this parasitism category on growth strategies. Nestling growth rate was the most evolutionarily flexible trait, followed by mass at fledging and nestling period duration. Adjustments during incubation (incubation period length, egg volume) were less pronounced and generally disappeared after controlling for phylogeny. I show that sibling competition caused by brood parasites can have strong effects on the evolution of host growth strategies and that the evolution of developmental traits can take place very rapidly. Human alteration of habitats causing spread of brood parasites to new areas thus cascades into affecting the evolution of life-history traits in host species.
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Vol. 60 • No. 8