A review of urban impacts on avian life-history evolution: Does city living lead to slower pace of life?

Tuul Sepp, Kevin McGraw, Ants Kaasik, Mathieu Giraudeau

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


The concept of a pace-of-life syndrome describes inter- and intraspecific variation in several life-history traits along a slow-to-fast pace-of-life continuum, with long lifespans, low reproductive and metabolic rates, and elevated somatic defences at the slow end of the continuum and the opposite traits at the fast end. Pace-of-life can vary in relation to local environmental conditions (e.g. latitude, altitude), and here we propose that this variation may also occur along an anthropogenically modified environmental gradient. Based on a body of literature supporting the idea that city birds have longer lifespans, we predict that urban birds have a slower pace-of-life compared to rural birds and thus invest more in self maintenance and less in annual reproduction. Our statistical meta-analysis of two key traits related to pace-of-life, survival and breeding investment (clutch size), indicated that urban birds generally have higher survival, but smaller clutch sizes. The latter finding (smaller clutches in urban habitats) seemed to be mainly a characteristic of smaller passerines. We also reviewed urbanization studies on other traits that can be associated with pace-of-life and are related to either reproductive investment or self-maintenance. Though sample sizes were generally too small to conduct formal meta-analyses, published literature suggests that urban birds tend to produce lower-quality sexual signals and invest more in offspring care. The latter finding is in agreement with the adult survival hypothesis, proposing that higher adult survival prospects favour investment in fewer offspring per year. According to our hypothesis, differences in age structure should arise between urban and rural populations, providing a novel alternative explanation for physiological differences and earlier breeding. We encourage more research investigating how telomere dynamics, immune defences, antioxidants and oxidative damage in different tissues vary along the urbanization gradient, and suggest that applying pace-of-life framework to studies of variation in physiological traits along the urbanization gradient might be the next direction to improve our understanding of urbanization as an evolutionary process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1452-1469
Number of pages18
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2018


  • POLS
  • anthropogenic effects
  • meta-analysis
  • pace-of-life syndrome
  • physiology
  • reproduction
  • survival
  • urbanization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Science(all)


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