, Volume 159, Issue 4, pp 849–858 | Cite as

Successful city dwellers: a comparative study of the ecological characteristics of urban birds in the Western Palearctic

  • Anders Pape Møller
Global Change Ecology - Original Paper


Numerous species have adapted to the proximity of humans, and this feature is no clearer than among species that have invaded towns and cities. The characteristics of species that have successfully managed to expand their range into urban areas remain largely unexplored, although they are of general interest in a world that is increasingly urbanised. I hypothesised that widely distributed species with high dispersal abilities, species with a high rate of innovation, a high level of risk-taking, and a fast life history would have a selective advantage in habitats influenced by humans. Consistent with this hypothesis, in a comparative analysis of 39 independent evolutionary events of urbanisation of birds in the Western Palearctic (thus taking the fact that closely related species that have become urbanised are caused by common phylogenetic descent rather than convergent evolution), bird species that adapted to urban habitats were characterised by large breeding ranges, high propensity for dispersal, high rates of feeding innovation (novel ways of acquiring food), short flight distances when approached by a human, and a life history characterised by high annual fecundity and high adult survival rate. Urban species may be disproportionately resistant to parasitism and predation because they had disproportionately strong immune responses, as reflected by the size of the bursa of Fabricius, and a history of weak predation-mediated natural selection, as reflected by the force required to remove feathers from the rump. Urban species had high overall ecological success as indicated by large range size and population size and high population density. This suggests that a suite of ecological features providing them with general ecological success characterises species of birds that have successfully invaded urban environments.


Invasion Life history Parasitism Risk-taking Urbanisation 

Supplementary material

442_2008_1259_MOESM1_ESM.doc (286 kb)
Supplementary material (DOC 286 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratoire de Parasitologie Evolutive, CNRS UMR 7103Université Pierre et Marie CurieParis Cedex 05France

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