Host-parasite relatedness in wood ducks: Patterns of kinship and parasite success

Charlotte Roy Nielsen, Brad Semel, Paul W. Sherman, David F. Westneat, Patricia G. Parker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


We investigated the role of kinship in intraspecific nest parasitism of wood ducks (Aix sponsa). Among waterfowl, female philopatry creates the potential for female relatives to nest in proximity. Costs of intraspecific nest parasitism to host females may be reduced if parasites lay eggs with kin. However, previous observations of marked wood ducks indicated that females avoided parasitizing clutch mates or the female that incubated them. To further examine the role of kinship, we determined the genotypes of 27 host-parasite pairs at five microsatellite loci. Average relatedness between hosts and all females laying parasitic eggs was only 0.04 ± 0.03. Parasites appeared to choose hosts randomly with respect to kinship from among females with nests in the neighborhood and those within the entire study area. However, host relatedness to the parasite with the greatest number of young leaving the nest was 0.11 ± 0.03, which was greater than expected if eggs were accepted randomly from neighboring females or from females present on the entire study area (p = .03 and p = .02, respectively). These patterns may reflect parasitism of randomly selected nests followed by differential acceptance by hosts, differential hatching success of related parasites (e.g., due to greater laying synchrony), or a mixture of parasitic strategies, one with a focus on related hosts and the other on unrelated hosts. Genetic data revealed that social relationships did not always reflect true relatedness and that success of primary parasites was associated with kinship to hosts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-496
Number of pages6
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Field portions of this study were funded by the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation, the US Department of Agriculture, the North American Bluebird Society, The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University (Hatch Program), and the Central New York Chapter of the Wildfowlers Association. Laboratory portions of this study were funded by grants from Delta Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Station to C.R.N., P.G.P., and R. Gates, by Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the University of Kentucky to D.F.W., and by Sigma Xi’s Grants-In-Aid of Research to C.R.N. and P.G.P. We thank S. Schrock, T. R. Rambo, and H. Mays for assistance in the laboratory. This research was conducted in compliance with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (permit #9438) and the Animal Behavior Society’s Animal Care Committee. A special thanks is necessary to the Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory at Southern Illinois University Carbondale for providing office space to C.R.N. during the production of the manuscript. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments.


  • Aix sponsa
  • Intraspecific nest parasitism
  • Kin selection
  • Microsatellites
  • Relatedness
  • Wood ducks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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