Interspecific variation in avian blood parasites and haematology associated with urbanization in a desert habitat

H. Bobby Fokidis, Ellis C. Greiner, Pierre Deviche

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


Many avian species are negatively impacted by urbanization, but other species survive and prosper in urbanized areas. One factor potentially contributing to the success of some species in urban areas is the reduced presence of predators or parasite vectors in urban compared to rural areas. In addition, urban areas may provide increased food and water resources, which can enhance immune capacity to resist infection and the ability to eliminate parasites. We determined patterns of blood parasitism, body condition, and immune cell profiles in urban and rural populations of five adult male songbird species that vary in their relative abundance within urban areas. Urban birds generally exhibited less blood parasitism than rural birds. This difference was particularly evident for the urban-adaptable Abert's towhee Pipilo aberti. In contrast, no difference in haemoparasitism was seen between urban and rural populations of the curve-billed thrasher Toxostoma curvirostre, a less-urban adaptable species. In two closely related species, the curve-billed thrasher and the northern mockingbird Mimus polyglottos, urban birds had a higher leukocyte count and a higher heterophil to lymphocyte ratio, which is often associated with chronic stress or current infection, than rural birds. Urban northern mockingbirds were in better condition than rural counterparts, but no habitat-related differences in condition were detected for other species. Parasitic infection was correlated with body condition in only one species, the canyon towhee Pipilo fuscus. Parasitic infection in most species was correlated with changes in leukocyte abundance and profile. The findings suggest that interspecific differences in parasitic infection cannot be attributed entirely to differences in vector abundance or body condition. Interactions between immune function, parasite infection risk, and resource availability may contribute to determining the relative ability of certain species to adapt to cities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)300-310
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'Interspecific variation in avian blood parasites and haematology associated with urbanization in a desert habitat'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this