Influence of Urbanization on Body Size, Condition, and Physiology in an Urban Exploiter: A Multi-Component Approach

PLoS One. 2015 Aug 13;10(8):e0135685. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0135685. eCollection 2015.


Consistent expanding urbanization dramatically transforms natural habitats and exposes organisms to novel environmental challenges, often leading to reduced species richness and diversity in cities. However, it remains unclear how individuals are affected by the urban environment and how they can or cannot adjust to the specific characteristics of urban life (e.g. food availability). In this study, we used an integrative multi-component approach to investigate the effects of urbanization on the nutritional status of house sparrows (Passer domesticus). We assessed several morphological and physiological indices of body condition in both juveniles (early post-fledging) and breeding adults from four sites with different levels of urbanization in France, Western Europe. We found that sparrows in more urbanized habitats have reduced body size and body mass compared to their rural conspecifics. However, we did not find any consistent differences in a number of complementary indices of condition (scaled mass index, muscle score, hematocrit, baseline and stress-induced corticosterone levels) between urban and rural birds, indicating that urban sparrows may not be suffering nutritional stress. Our results suggest that the urban environment is unlikely to energetically constrain adult sparrows, although other urban-related variables may constrain them. On the other hand, we found significant difference in juvenile fat scores, suggesting that food types provided to young sparrows differed highly between habitats. In addition to the observed smaller size of urban sparrows, these results suggest that the urban environment is inadequate to satisfy early-life sparrows' nutritional requirements, growth, and development. The urban environment may therefore have life-long consequences for developing birds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Size / physiology*
  • Breeding
  • Ecosystem
  • France
  • Nutritional Status / physiology*
  • Sparrows / physiology*
  • Urbanization*

Grant support

This work was funded by the Fondation Fyssen (grant to FA) and by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. AM was supported by a grant from the Région Poitou-Charentes and the Conseil Général des Deux-Sèvres. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.