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Nesting and acoustic ecology, but not phylogeny, influence passerine urban tolerance


  • Gonçalo C. Cardoso

    Corresponding author
    1. CIBIO – Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, Universidade do Porto, Vairão, Portugal
    • Correspondence: Gonçalo C. Cardoso, tel. +351 252660411, fax +351 252661780, e-mail:

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Urbanization is one of the most extensive and ecologically significant changes happening to terrestrial environments, as it strongly affects the distribution of biodiversity. It is well established that native species richness is reduced in urban and suburban areas, but the species traits that predict tolerance to urbanization are yet little understood. In birds, one of the most studied groups in this respect, evidence is appearing that acoustic traits influence urban living, but it remains unknown how this compares to the effects of more obvious ecological traits that facilitate urban living. Therefore, it remains unclear whether acoustic communication is an important predictor of urban tolerance among species. Here, with a comparative study across 140 European and North American passerines, I show that high song frequency, which is less masked by the low-frequency anthropogenic noise, is associated with urban tolerance, with an effect size over half that of the most important ecological trait studied: off-ground nesting. Other nesting and foraging traits accepted to facilitate urban living did not differ for species occurring in urban environments. Thus, the contribution of acoustic traits for passerine urban tolerance approximates that of more obvious ecological traits. Nonetheless, effect sizes of the biological predictors of urban tolerance were low and the phylogenetic signal for urban tolerance was null, both of which suggest that factors other than phenotypic traits have major effects on urban tolerance. A simple possibility is exposure to urbanization, as there was a higher proportion of urban-tolerant species in Europe, which is more urbanized than North America.