Urban behavioural adaptation

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Abstract

A large and growing proportion of the world is impacted directly by human activities; among the most extreme of these is the spread of urban environments. Environmental change associated with urbanization represents a potentially potent source of selection. While urban environments generally have lowered biodiversity, some clades seem to thrive in urban settings. For example, many members of the bird family Turdidae, known as the ‘true thrushes’ and the blackbird Turdus merula (Fig. 1) in particular, are familiar urban species. Indeed, the colonization of urban environments by blackbirds has become a textbook case study for our understanding of the many ways a wild species can deal with urbanization. In this issue, Mueller et al. (Molecular Ecology, 00, 2013, 00) add to that story by beginning to address the genetic nature of behavioural adaptation of blackbirds colonizing urban areas. They do this by testing for divergence between paired urban and rural samples at a suite of candidate genes with hypothesized effects on behaviours thought to be important for the colonization of urban environments. They find evidence for consistent patterns of divergence at an exonic microsatellite associated with the SERT gene. SERT has a number of hypothesized behavioural effects, including harm avoidance, which may be associated with tolerating the hustle and bustle of urban environments. This is among the first evidence that behavioural differences between urban and rural environments have a genetic basis and this work suggests that urban environments can in some cases exert homogeneous selection pressures.

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