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Underlying physiological control of reproduction in urban and forest-dwelling European blackbirds Turdus merula


  • Jesko Partecke,

  • Thomas J. Van't Hof,

  • Eberhard Gwinner

J. Partecke (correspondence), Max-Planck-Institute for Ornithology, Department of Biological Rhythms and Behaviour, Von-der-Tannstrasse 7, 82346 Andechs and Seewiesen, Germany T. J. Van'T Hof, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio 45435-0001, USA. Present address of J. Partecke: School of Biological Sciences, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-436, USA. E-mail: †E. Gwinner deceased on 7 September 2004.


The development and the continual expansion of urban areas have not only destroyed natural habitats, but also have drastically changed the environmental and ecological conditions of these areas. Consequently, species that have settled in these new man-made ecosystems are exposed to considerable alternations in environmental conditions compared to their ‘wild’ conspecifics. To understand the impact of human-induced environmental changes on life history events such as reproduction, we compared the timing of the reproductive season and its underlying endocrine control in free-living European blackbirds Turdus merula inhabiting urban and nearby forest areas. Body mass, fat score, gonadal size, luteinizing hormone (LH), testosterone (T), and estradiol (E2) were measured. Urban blackbirds developed their gonads approximately three weeks earlier than forest birds, whereas the timing of gonadal regression did not differ. There are several factors (e.g. artificial light, temperature, food availability, and social cues) which may have caused the differences in the temporal organization of gonadal growth between the urban and forest-living populations. The advanced gonadal development of urban blackbirds did not coincide with an earlier secretion of reproductive hormones. In contrast, urban males had lower plasma LH and T levels during testicular growth than forest males. Differences in social interactions and environmental conditions may explain the contrast of gonadal development and the timing of hormone secretion between urban and forest blackbirds.