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Living in the city: can anyone become an ‘urban exploiter'?

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Abstract Aim 

As urban landscapes expand, shifts in biodiversity are occurring. This is leading biogeographers and ecologists to consider human-dominated landscapes in their current work. One question that arises is: what characterizes those species that are widespread in the most highly urban environments compared with those restricted to less urbanized areas in the city? Here, we aim to identify the traits that enable species to become urban exploiters, i.e. to dominate highly urbanized surroundings. Identifying these traits may help us better predict and possibly mitigate the biotic homogenization occurring in these areas. Location 

Israel in general, with special focus on the city of Jerusalem. Methods 

Combining literature and field-based data for birds in Israel we compared phenotypic, behavioural and life-history traits between urban exploiters and urban adapters. The latter occur in urban landscapes, but are characteristic of the less urbanized parts of the city. We then examined the trends along a finer field-sampled gradient of increasing urbanization from sub-natural to downtown areas within the city of Jerusalem. Results 

Urban exploiters and adapters differed primarily in social structure and migratory status: exploiters were significantly more social and sedentary than urban adapters. Clear trends were also seen for dietary preferences along a gradient of increasing urbanization in Jerusalem, such that, with increasing urbanization, the proportion of granivorous species increased whereas the proportion of species feeding on invertebrates declined. In contrast, neither relative brain size nor behavioural flexibility, as measured by feeding innovations, differed significantly among urban exploiters and adapters in Israel or along the urbanization gradient in Jerusalem specifically. Main conclusions 

The results of our study suggest that being successful in more vs. less urbanized environments in the city is not necessarily a factor of brain size nor of how flexible and behaviourally innovative the species is; rather, it depends on a combination of traits, including diet, degree of sociality, sedentariness and preferred nesting sites.
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Keywords: Birds; Jerusalem; brain size; sociality; urban adapters; urban exploiters; urban gradient

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2E9, Canada 2: The Biodiversity Research Group, Department of Evolution, Systematics and Ecology, The Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem 91904, Israel

Publication date: 01 April 2007

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