MRE Symonds, MA Weston, WFD Van Dongen, A Lill, RW Robinson, P-J Guay (2016) Time since urbanisation but not encephalisation is associated with increased tolerance of human proximity in birds. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 4: 117   LINK

What’s it about?

Birds habituate to human presence, such that they get less wary of humans upon regularly exposure (as happens in urban areas). This paper tests a hypothesis that birds with bigger brains are able to habituate more (i.e. there is a bigger difference in their flight initiation distances between rural and urban populations). We find this not to be the case, but do find that birds with a greater history of exposure to humans show a greater difference in FID between rural and urban populations, indicating that they are evolving to be more tolerant of humans.

What’s the story behind it?

This was another paper where I was initially a hired gun to help out Patrick-Jean Guay and Mike Weston with their ongoing research programme into Flight Initiation Distances in birds. My involvement was reasonably minimal at first, but after a first failed attempt at submitting the paper, it became apparent a large-scale reanalysis and rewrite of the paper was needed. In the end, I ended up doing nearly all of that reanalysis and rewriting (grumbling somewhat internally) but it eventually paid fruit as I made my way to the front of the authorship queue. On looking for a place to resubmit the paper, I noticed that Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution were running a research themes on effects of urbanisation on birds, and this paper was a serendipitous fit (entirely coincidentally – it wasn’t written especially for the research theme).

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