Brains and the city: big-brained passerine birds succeed in urban environments

Alexei A. Maklakov, Simone Immler, Alejandro Gonzalez-Voyer, Johanna Rönn, Niclas Kolm

Abstract

Urban regions are among the most human-altered environments on Earth and they are poised for rapid expansion following population growth and migration. Identifying the biological traits that determine which species are likely to succeed in urbanized habitats is important for predicting global trends in biodiversity. We provide the first evidence for the intuitive yet untested hypothesis that relative brain size is a key factor predisposing animals to successful establishment in cities. We apply phylogenetic mixed modelling in a Bayesian framework to show that passerine species that succeed in colonizing at least one of 12 European cities are more likely to belong to big-brained lineages than species avoiding these urban areas. These data support findings linking relative brain size with the ability to persist in novel and changing environments in vertebrate populations, and have important implications for our understanding of recent trends in biodiversity.

Footnotes

    • Received March 25, 2011.
    • Accepted April 7, 2011.
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