Feeney and Langmore on Campbell Park research on wrens and cuckoos

To: 'Iliana Medina Guzmán' <>, "'David Rees'" <>
Subject: Feeney and Langmore on Campbell Park research on wrens and cuckoos
From: "Philip Veerman" <>
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2015 13:15:43 +1000
Interesting and whatever works is fine.  I would have thought plastic would mean variable. Which I would have thought does not fully rule out innate. It is possible to inherit options or different strategies. The word "learned" could have been used, although maybe that would be stating something that is not known to be true, if the only known thing is the variability.
-----Original Message-----
From: Iliana Medina Guzmán [
Sent: Wednesday, 8 April 2015 12:26 PM
To: David Rees
Cc: Robin Hide; <>
Subject: Re: [canberrabirds] Feeney and Langmore on Campbell Park research on wrens and cuckoos

Dear David,

I would like to clarify that although your translation of the sentence in the abstract is correct for a general audience, it lacks other important information that scientists need to know, in order to replicate or compare this study with other studies.

For example, by mentioning the word 'plastic' the authors imply that these behaviours are learned, not genetically transmitted. By using the word 'portfolio' they imply that is not just one but several types of defenses. 

Given the very limited space on scientific journals we need to convey as much useful information as possible in one sentence. But there are several scientists (like Will and Naomi), that write the same findings but for a general audience, here is an example:

Best regards,

On Wed, Apr 8, 2015 at 8:41 AM, David Rees <> wrote:

I'm sure the work is fine, but reading such an abstract it is clear to me what gives so much modern science a bad name.

As an example, why don't we have a competition to replace '...have a plastic defense portfolio that can be acquired rapidly and deployed facultatively' with something that approaches what one might call English!  The military would have been proud of those words, these are fairy wrens!  

How about  '...wrens can quickly and flexibly change their behaviour to defend their nests from Cuckoos' .

I am sure others can do better.



On Wed, Apr 8, 2015 at 7:33 AM, Robin Hide <> wrote:

This new paper reporting Campbell Park research may be of interest to some list members-


Feeney, William. E. and Naomi E. Langmore (2015). “Superb Fairy-wrens (Malurus cyaneus) increase vigilance near their nest with the perceived risk of brood parasitism.” The Auk 132(2): 359-364.

Abstract: Brood parasites typically impose costs on their hosts, which select for host defenses. However, where defenses are costly, hosts can benefit by facultative _expression_ of defenses in relation to the risk of parasitism. The results of our model-presentation experiments show that Superb Fairy-wrens (Malurus cyaneus) mediate vigilance around their nest according to their perceived risk of brood parasitism; when the risk of parasitism is high, they increase the time they spend in the vicinity of their nests. In combination with previous studies, these data suggest that Superb Fairy-wrens have a plastic defense portfolio that can be acquired rapidly and deployed facultatively to prevent parasitism while minimizing wasteful investment in defenses in the absence of parasitism.


William E. Feeney1,2* and Naomi E. Langmore1

1Evolution, Ecology and Genetics, Research School of Biology, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

2Evolutionary Ecology Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom


*Corresponding author:


Robin Hide


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