City birds are more daring than forest birds

City birds are more daring than forest birds

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Is the behavior of rural inhabitants very different from that of those who live in cities? In the case of birds, it seems so. Those who live in cities are more daring and courageous when it comes to exploring and are less afraid of news. It has been demonstrated by researchers from the Museum of Natural Sciences of Barcelona, ​​with the collaboration of scientists from other centers and universities.

Half of the world's population already lives in cities and this percentage is increasing rapidly. This means more urbanization of the territory. It has often been said that this harms species that live in the natural environment, which see their habitat increasingly restricted and degraded. But it has also been observed that many individuals adapt to the urban environment, to the point that within the same species they end up having different traits from their peers who continue to live in non-urbanized environments.

Several studies have tried to find out if the environment in which certain birds live affects their personality. Behavior related to the exploration of the territory, caution and neophobia - fear of new things - has, as observed by ornithologists, a strong hereditary component. But other works show contradictory or not sufficiently clear results that they did not allow to affirm if the individuals that live in urban habitats are more daring or less neophobic.

Joan Carles Senar and Sepand Riyah, from the Museum of Natural Sciences of Barcelona, ​​together with Mats Björklund, from the University of Uppsala (Sweden), and Fernando Mateos-González, from the University of Texas (USA) and the Max Planck Institute of Constanza (Germany), decided to analyze these behaviors with the great tit (Parus major), a bird about 14 centimeters in size that has a black band on its yellow chest, as if it were wearing a tie.

The birds that are not afraid of flashlights

The researchers captured 130 individuals in three different habitats. More than half came from the Can Catà area, in the Collserola Natural Park, a wooded area dominated by oaks and holm oaks at the bottom of the valley and by pine trees in the higher parts. The 74 birds captured here made up the rural population. 21 were captured in the Ciutadella Park. They are the "urbanites". Finally, there were 35 that came from the Can Sentmenat Gardens, next to the Sarrià Desert. This area is partially wooded, but it also has several buildings in and around it. It would be a peri-urban area.

The birds were placed in spaces where they had whatever water they wanted and peanuts to eat. They were also supplied, through a trough, worms as a food supplement. They were subjected to two behavioral tests. One day a flashlight pen was put into the trough. This served to measure the daring or neophobia of individuals, depending on the time it took to get close to get food. A second test consisted of opening the door of their cabin so that they could go to another room where there were five artificial trees. His behavior revealed his tendency to explore a new environment.

The results, published in the Journal of Ethology, reveal that urban and peri-urban birds were more likely to explore the environment and also came closer to the new object earlier. Blood was also taken to study genetic differences.

The scientists observed that urban birds showed in a given gene (DRD4), related to behavior, less proportion of a variant that, in previous studies, had been associated with behavior more prone to exploration. Therefore, in the case of genetics, the results seem contradictory.

“The study certifies that urbanization is an element of pressure that leads to select individuals who are more willing to explore, more daring and who are less scared of new objects. The rural environment is usually more stable and, therefore, these qualities are not so necessary ”, explains Joan Carles Senar. In any case, the research shows that the selective pressure caused by the city also facilitates a natural experiment on the evolution of some species, and allows us to see how, subjected to different situations, each population evolves to adapt to the new environment.

Bibliographic reference:
Joan Carles Senar et al. "Personality and urbanization: behavioral traits and DRD4 SNP830 polymorphisms in great tits in Barcelona city" Journal of Ethology October 2016 DOI: 10.1007 / s10164-016-0496-2

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