No Effect of Human Presence at Night on Disease, Body Mass, or Metabolism in Rural and Urban House Finches (Haemorhous mexicanus)

Pierce Hutton, Christian D. Wright, Dale Denardo, Kevin McGraw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Global urban development continues to accelerate and have diverse effects on wildlife. Although most studies of anthropogenic impacts on animals have focused on indirect effects (e.g., environmental modifications like habitat change or pollution), there may also be direct effects of physical human presence and actions on wildlife stress, behavior, and persistence in cities. Most studies on how humans physically interact with wildlife have focused on the active, daytime phase of diurnal animals, rarely considering effects of our night-time activities. We hypothesized that, if night-time human presence is a stressor for wildlife that are not commonly exposed to humans, night-disturbed rural animals would show stronger physiological signs of elevated stress than would urban individuals. Specifically, we experimentally investigated the effects of human presence at night (HPAN) on disease, body mass, and mass-specific metabolic rates in urban- and rural-caught house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) in captivity. Our HPAN treatment consisted of a human entering the housing room of the birds and briefly jostling the home cages of each finch as the person walked around the room for a 3-min period on five randomly selected nights per week. Compared with a control (night-undisturbed) group, we found that HPAN greatly increased the odds finches were awake for ca. 33 min post-disturbance, but that chronic treatment did not alter body mass, parasitic infection by coccidian endoparasites, or mass-specific basal metabolic rates. Additionally, finches caught from urban and rural sites did not differ in their response to the treatment. Overall, our results are consistent with those showing that brief but regular human disturbances can have acute negative effects on wildlife, but carry few if any long-term metabolic or disease-related costs in fast-lived birds. However, these findings contrast with the broad, chronic physiological effects of other anthropogenic changes, such as artificial light at night, and highlight the differential impacts that various human activities (which differ in sensory stimulus type, perceived threat, duration and intensity, etc.) can have on wildlife health and behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)977-985
Number of pages9
JournalIntegrative and comparative biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Plant Science


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