Royal Society Publishing

Differences in the timing of reproduction between urban and forest European blackbirds (Turdus merula): result of phenotypic flexibility or genetic differences?

Jesko Partecke , Thomas Van't Hof , Eberhard Gwinner


Species which have settled in urban environments are exposed to different conditions from their wild conspecifics. A previous comparative study of an urban and a forest–living European blackbird population had revealed a three weeks earlier onset of gonadal growth in urban individuals. These physiological adjustments are either the result of genetic differences that have evolved during the urbanization process, or of phenotypic flexibility resulting from the bird's exposure to the different environmental conditions of town or forest. To identify which of these two mechanisms causes the differences in reproductive timing, hand–reared birds originating from the urban and the forest populations were kept in identical conditions. The substantial differences in the timing of reproduction between urban and forest birds known from the field did not persist under laboratory conditions, indicating that temporal differences in reproductive timing between these two populations are mainly a result of phenotypic flexibility. Nevertheless, urban males initiated plasma luteinizing hormone (LH) secretion and testicular development earlier than forest males in their first reproductive season. Moreover, plasma LH concentration and follicle size declined earlier in urban females than in forest females, suggesting that genetic differences are also involved and might contribute to the variations in the timing of reproduction in the wild.

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