Behavioural Syndromes in Urban and Rural Populations of Song Sparrows


Jeremy Hyman, 132 Natural Sciences, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC 28723, USA.


Animals in urban habitats are often noticeably bold in the presence of humans. Such boldness may arise due to habituation, as urban animals learn, through repeated exposure, that passing humans do not represent a threat. However, there is growing research suggesting that: (1) inherent traits, as opposed to learned behaviour, influence which species invade urban habitats, and (2) individuals exhibit individual personality traits that limit behavioural flexibility, with the possible result that not all individuals would be able to demonstrate an appropriate level of boldness in urban environments. As a result, perhaps only birds with inherently bold personalities could successfully settle in an area of high human disturbance, and further, we might also expect to see the existence of behavioural syndromes, where boldness is correlated with variation in other behavioural traits such as aggression. In this study, we examined boldness and territorial aggression in urban and rural populations of song sparrows. We found that urban birds were bolder towards humans and that urban birds also showed higher levels of territorial aggression. We also found an overall correlation between boldness and territorial aggression, suggesting that urban boldness may be part of a behavioural syndrome. However, we see no correlation between boldness and aggression in the urban population, and thus, more work is needed to determine the mechanisms accounting for high levels of boldness and aggression urban song sparrows.