Research in the Cowbird Lab, also known as the Hauber Lab, focuses on the evolution of recognition systems. Shifting gears between behavioral, developmental, physiological, and molecular tools, we are studying the social and genetic consequences of species recognition in avian brood parasites, such as cuckoos, cowbirds, and whydahs and their hosts. Obligate brood parasitism in birds provides an exciting model system for the evolution of social behaviors because, unlike 99% of bird species, they lay their eggs into nests of other species and are reared by foster parents. Using hypothesis-driven comparative methods and meta-analyses, theoretical modeling and simulations, and direct observations and experimental treatments in the field and the lab, we test predictions of co-evolutionary arms-race hypotheses between parasites and their hosts. Several other projects in the lab tap into national and international collaborations throughout the world of birds, including the unique and often endangered sea- and shorebird fauna of New Zealand, as well as mammals, spiders, and other organisms from around the globe.
There are many different types of birds that are parasites. Unlike many commonly known parasites such as fleas, ticks, and bedbugs, however, birds don't harm their hosts by burrowing inside the skin or hiding between feathers. Instead, they lay their eggs in the hosts' nests and leave the raising of parasitic offspring to foster parents. Such birds take advantage of the hosts' parental instincts at the cost of the foster parents' own brood, and so, appropriately, are also called brood parasites. Click the tabs below to learn more about parasitic birds.
Our Principal Investigator is Mark E. Hauber.