Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

'Stress And The City': Urban Birds Keep Cool

Date:
September 4, 2006
Source:
Max Planck Society
Summary:
Ornithologists of the Max Planck Society demonstrate that urban birds are more resistant to acute stress than forest dwelling birds. This reduced reactivity probably has a genetic basis and could be the result of the urban-specific selection pressures to which urban blackbirds are exposed.

Juvenile European blackbird.
Credit: Ingo Teich / MPI for Ornithology

Animals colonizing cities are exposed to many novel and potentially stressful situations. Chronic stress, however, can cause deleterious effects. Hence, wild animals would suffer from city life unless they adjusted their stress response to the conditions in a city.

Related Articles


Jesko Partecke, Ingrid Schwabl and Eberhard Gwinner of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology Andechs/Seewiesen in Germany have now shown that European blackbirds born in a city have a lower stress response than their forest counterparts. This reduced reactivity probably has a genetic basis and could be the result of the urban-specific selection pressures to which urban blackbirds are exposed (Ecology 87(8) 2006).
Many species have developed a symbiotic relationship with humans. For example, European blackbirds, European starlings and house sparrows thrive in concrete habitats around the globe. The sparrow is now so closely associated with man that its original niche is unknown, whereas the European blackbird was - as little as 200 years ago - a reclusive forest dweller. These species seem to profit, for instance, by the warmer microclimate and additional anthropogenic food supply in cities. However, they are also confronted with many novel and potentially stressful anthropogenic disturbances, such as the permanent presence of humans, higher densities of cats and dogs, noise and light pollution as well as traffic.

Among the physiological coping mechanisms used by vertebrates - including humans - to ensure survival under adverse environmental conditions is the acute stress response, characterised by the release of glucocorticoid steroid hormones. The acute short-term secretion of these hormones is considered beneficial in that it helps to mediate adaptive behavioural and physiological responses. In prolonged stress situations, however, chronically elevated levels of circulating glucocorticoids can impair reproductive, immune, and brain functions. Thus, wild animals would suffer from city life unless they adjusted their stress response to the conditions in a city.

Whereas changes in the behaviour of urban birds have been frequently documented - e.g. urban blackbirds are often tamer than their relatives from ‘natural’ habitats - it was not previously known whether the physiological stress response also changes to suit the urban life style. If so, then it should be tested whether this adjustment is based on the flexibility of individuals experiencing different environmental conditions or is the result of micro-evolutionary adaptations that have evolved during the urbanisation process.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology Andechs/Seewiesen in Germany, originally under the leadership of the late Max-Planck Director Dr. Eberhard Gwinner, answered these questions in a recent experiment. They hand-raised European blackbird nestlings collected from the centre of Munich, Germany and a nearby forest area (beeline distance 40 kilometres) and kept both groups in the same bird room for one year. These two groups therefore lived under exactly the same controlled environmental conditions, both during their developmental phase and later during the experiment.

During their first autumn, winter and spring, Jesko Partecke applied a standardised capture and handling stressor protocol to all urban and forest blackbirds and simultaneously collected blood samples, to determine the concentration of corticosterone, the stress hormone in birds. Under normal conditions, i.e. undisturbed, urban and forest blackbirds did not differ in their corticosterone secretion. In addition both groups showed a similar acute hormonal stress response during their first fall. This, however, changed considerably during their first winter and spring: Then the stress response of urban blackbirds was distinctly blunted in comparison to their forest counterparts.

‘These results show, for the first time, that city life changes physiological coping mechanisms in wild animals, which are necessary for survival’, said Jesko Partecke. Such a reduced hormonal stress response could be ubiquitous and, presumably, necessary for all animals that thrive in ecosystems exposed to frequent anthropogenic disturbances such as those in urban areas. The scientists suggest that the difference in the hormonal stress response between urban and forest blackbirds is genetically determined and probably the result of the extreme selective forces in the city; as a result, those individuals that get along better with the ‘urban stressors’ enhance their prospects of survival in a city.

Why the two groups of birds did not differ in their stress response during their first autumn is still an unanswered question. ‘One explanation is that the reduced sensitivity of urban blackbirds to stressors occurs later in their life’, speculated Partecke. Data obtained from free-ranging birds in their native urban and forest habitats are also inevitably necessary to verify the observed pattern under natural conditions. In addition, future studies are needed to assess the possible adaptive value of an attenuated stress response in urban habitats, by relating survival and fitness data to the trait variation.

Original work: Jesko Partecke, Ingrid Schwabl and Eberhard Gwinner
Stress and the city: Urbanization and its effects on the stress physiology in European blackbirds


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Max Planck Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Max Planck Society. "'Stress And The City': Urban Birds Keep Cool." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 September 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060901160821.htm>.
Max Planck Society. (2006, September 4). 'Stress And The City': Urban Birds Keep Cool. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060901160821.htm
Max Planck Society. "'Stress And The City': Urban Birds Keep Cool." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060901160821.htm (accessed November 26, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

From Popcorn To Vending Snacks: FDA Ups Calorie Count Rules

From Popcorn To Vending Snacks: FDA Ups Calorie Count Rules

Newsy (Nov. 25, 2014) The US FDA is announcing new calorie rules on Tuesday that will require everywhere from theaters to vending machines to include calorie counts. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Feast Your Eyes: Lamb Chop Sent Into Space from UK

Feast Your Eyes: Lamb Chop Sent Into Space from UK

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Nov. 25, 2014) Take a stab at this -- stunt video shows a lamb chop's journey from an east London restaurant over 30 kilometers into space. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cambodian Capital's Only Working Elephant to Retire in Jungle

Cambodian Capital's Only Working Elephant to Retire in Jungle

AFP (Nov. 25, 2014) Phnom Penh's only working elephant was blessed by a crowd of chanting Buddhist monks Tuesday as she prepared for a life of comfortable jungle retirement after three decades of giving rides to tourists. Duration: 00:36 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stray Dog Follows Adventure Racing Team for 6-Day Endurance Race

Stray Dog Follows Adventure Racing Team for 6-Day Endurance Race

Buzz60 (Nov. 24, 2014) A Swedish Adventure racing team travels to try and win a world title, but comes home with something way better: a stray dog that joined the team for much of the grueling 430-mile race. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins