Evolutionary arms race between cuckoos and hosts creates new species

A superb fairy wren feeding a Horsfield’s bronze cuckoo chick. Photo: Mark Lethlean
31 May 2024

A recent paper, Coevolution with hosts underpins speciation in brood-parasitic cuckoos, published in Science, is the culmination of a rewarding collaboration between ANU and CSIRO biologists.

The cross-disciplinary study combined the expertise of behavioural ecologists (ANU, University of Cambridge), molecular geneticists (CSIRO, ANU) and macroecologists (ANU, University of Melbourne) and was supported by ARC Discovery and Centre for Biodiversity Analysis grants awarded jointly to researchers at ANU and CSIRO.

The cornerstone of the study was the development of a non-destructive method for extracting DNA from tiny (2 cm) cuckoo eggs by Alicia Grealy, Naomi Langmore (ANU) and Clare Holleley (CSIRO).

This unlocked a genetic goldmine in the form of the historical egg collection housed at the Australian National Wildlife Collection, CSIRO, which comprises 31,000 clutches of birds’ eggs.​​​​​​

 

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