Are invasive House Sparrows a nuisance for native avifauna when scarce?

Abstract

Biological invasions are the second most important cause of species extinction. Aided by processes such as transportation and urbanization, exotic species can establish and spread to new locations, causing changes in the function and structure of ecosystems. The House Sparrow is a widespread and highly abundant landbird associated to human presence. Previous studies performed in urban landscapes have suggested that this species could be acting, in synergy with urbanization, as a potential threat to native urban avian assemblages. In this study we assessed the relationship between House Sparrow density and native bird species richness in a region where the sparrows are scarce and sparsely distributed. We surveyed bird assemblages in and around four small-sized human settlements, considering three conditions in relation to House Sparrow presence: urban invaded, urban non-invaded, and non-urban non-invaded. To assess the potential detrimental role of House Sparrows on native bird species richness, we measured, additionally to sparrow densities, 20 predictor variables that describe vegetation structure and complexity, as well as urban infrastructure and human activities across four seasons of 1 year. Our results show that maximum shrub height was positively related to bird species richness, built cover was negatively associated with it, and House Sparrow invaded sites were related to a significant decrease of bird species richness, with increasing richness loss when more sparrows were present. Thus, we here provide evidence that urban areas can act in synergy with the presence of House Sparrows (even in low densities) in the urban-related species richness decline pattern.

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Acknowledgments

We are deeply thankful with María del Coro Arizmendi Arriaga, Roger Guevara, Fabricio Villalobos, and José Antonio González Oreja for their helpful comments that enhanced the quality and clarity of the manuscript, as well as Miguel Ángel Gómez Martínez, Oscar Humberto Marín Gómez, Carlos Mauricio Trujillo Torres, Juan Fernando Escobar Ibáñez, Julian Avila Campos, Lorena Ramírez Restrepo, and Sonia Morán for their assistance in the field. MG-A acknowledges the scholarship and financial support provided by the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT 416452) and the Master’s Program of the Instituto de Ecología, A.C. (INECOL).

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Correspondence to Ian MacGregor-Fors.

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García-Arroyo, M., Santiago-Alarcon, D., Quesada, J. et al. Are invasive House Sparrows a nuisance for native avifauna when scarce?. Urban Ecosyst 23, 793–802 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-020-00963-x

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Keywords

  • Biological invasions
  • Bird density
  • Passer domesticus
  • Species composition
  • Species richness
  • Urban ecology