Urban bird species risk dying prematurely due to stress


Share post:

Birds of the species Parus Major (great tit) living in an urban environment are at greater risk of dying young than great tits living outside cities. Research results from Lund University in Sweden show that urban great tits have shorter telomeres than others of their own species living in rural areas. According to the researchers, the induced stress that the urban great tits are experiencing is what results in shorter telomeres and thereby increases their risk of dying young.

Urban bird species risk dying prematurely due to stress
Urban bird species risk dying prematurely due to stress
Rural great tit (above) and urban great tit (below) [Credit: Lund University/P. Salmon]

Telomeres are located at the end of each DNA strand in the body’s chromosomes, in both great tits and humans. The length of the telomeres can be described as a kind of age biomarker — short telomeres mean short life expectancy. According to the researchers, their study shows that the environment in which great tits grow up determines the length of their telomeres more than their genetics.

“Although there are advantages to living in cities, such as the access to food, they seem to be outweighed by the disadvantages, such as stress — at least in terms of how quickly the cells of the great tits age,” says biologist Pablo Salmon who conducts research in the field of evolutionary ecology at the Faculty of Science, Lund University.

The researchers obtained the results by studying great tit groups of siblings. Half of the siblings grew up in the countryside, half in Malmo. After 13 days, blood was taken to measure the length of their red cell telomeres. Pablo Salmon and his colleagues had partly anticipated the outcome, but were still surprised when they saw how big the difference in the length of the telomeres was after only 13 days.

“Previous studies have shown that genetics have an effect on the telomere length in individual birds. What we’re showing now is that growing up in a stressful environment has even more of an impact,” he says.

The study, which he conducted together with colleagues at the Faculty of Science, indicates the need for further studies to better understand how people can help birds in urban environments live longer.

“The impact that urbanisation has on wildlife must be studied much more, or we won’t be able to understand the threats that birds are exposed to in urban environments, and won’t be able to do anything about them. Our results also raise questions concerning the aging of other animals affected by urbanisation, and humans for that matter,” says Pablo Salmon.

The study is published in an article in the scientific journal The Royal Society Journal Biology Letters.

Source: Lund University [June 20, 2016]



Related articles

Unveiling the ancient climate of Mars

The high seas of Mars may never have existed. According to a new study that looks at two...

Historical wildlife trends reliable for predicting species at risk

Some of the methods used to predict at risk species are trend-based -- an indicator of what happens...

The giant sloth megatherium was a vegetarian

Together with an international team, Senckenberg scientists examined the diet of the extinct Giant Sloth Megatherium. Based on...

Bronze Age artefacts found in Wales declared ‘treasure’

Four gold and copper artefacts, from the Late Bronze Age of 1000-800 BC, were declared treasure by the...

Isis militants blow up Jonah’s tomb

Islamic State (Isis) militants have blown up a reveredMuslim shrine traditionally said to be the burial place of...

Airborne LiDAR discovers Roman goldmines in Spain

Hidden under the vegetation and crops of the Eria Valley, in León (Spain), there is a gold mining...

New analysis of dinosaur skulls reveals three species are one

A new analysis of dinosaur fossils by University of Pennsylvania researchers has revealed that a number of specimens...

Cosmic horseshoe is not the lucky beacon

Although the universe started out with a bang it quickly evolved to a relatively cool, dark place. After...