We use a quantitative genetic model to examine the coevolution of host and cuckoo egg characters (termed “size” as a proxy for general appearance), host discrimination, and host and cuckoo population dynamics. A host decides whether to discard an egg using a comparison of the sizes of the eggs in her nest, which changes as host and cuckoo eggs evolve. Specifically, we assume that the probability that she discards the largest egg in her nest depends on how much larger it is than the second largest egg. This decision rule (i.e., the acceptable difference in egg sizes) also evolves, changing both the chance of successful rejection of a cuckoo egg in parasitized nests and the chance of mistaken rejection of a host egg in both parasitized and unparasitized nests. We find a stable equilibrium for coexistence of the host and cuckoo where there is cuckoo egg mimicry, evolutionary displacement of the host egg away from the cuckoo egg phenotype, and host discrimination against unusual eggs. Both host discrimination and host egg displacement are fairly weak at the equilibrium. Cuckoo egg mimicry, although imperfect, usually evolves more extensively and quickly than the responses of the host. Our model provides evidence for both the evolutionary equilibrium and evolutionary lag hypotheses of host acceptance of parasitic eggs.
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