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Biol Lett. 2007 Dec 22;3(6):670-3.

Urban birds have broader environmental tolerance.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Washington, Box 351800, Seattle, WA 98195-1800, USA. fb2@vt.edu


Urbanization dramatically changes the composition and diversity of biotic communities. The characteristics distinguishing species that persist in urban environments, however, are poorly understood. Here we test the hypothesis that broadly adapted organisms are better able to tolerate urbanization, using a phylogenetically controlled, global comparison of birds. We compared elevational and latitudinal distributions of 217 urban birds found in 73 of the world's largest cities with distributions of 247 rural congeners to test the hypothesis that urban birds possess broader environmental tolerance. Urban birds had markedly broader environmental tolerance than rural congeners, as estimated by elevational and latitudinal distributions. Our results suggest that broad environmental tolerance may predispose some birds to thrive in urban habitats. The mechanisms mediating such environmental tolerance warrant further investigation, but probably include greater behavioural, physiological and ecological flexibility.

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