Past and future: Urbanization and the avian endocrine system

Pierre Deviche, Karen Sweazea, Frederic Angelier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Urban environments are evolutionarily novel and differ from natural environments in many respects including food and/or water availability, predation, noise, light, air quality, pathogens, biodiversity, and temperature. The success of organisms in urban environments requires physiological plasticity and adjustments that have been described extensively, including in birds residing in geographically and climatically diverse regions. These studies have revealed a few relatively consistent differences between urban and non-urban conspecifics. For example, seasonally breeding urban birds often develop their reproductive system earlier than non-urban birds, perhaps in response to more abundant trophic resources. In most instances, however, analyses of existing data indicate no general pattern distinguishing urban and non-urban birds. It is, for instance, often hypothesized that urban environments are stressful, yet the activity of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis does not differ consistently between urban and non-urban birds. A similar conclusion is reached by comparing blood indices of metabolism. The origin of these disparities remains poorly understood, partly because many studies are correlative rather than aiming at establishing causality, which effectively limits our ability to formulate specific hypotheses regarding the impacts of urbanization on wildlife. We suggest that future research will benefit from prioritizing mechanistic approaches to identify environmental factors that shape the phenotypic responses of organisms to urbanization and the neuroendocrine and metabolic bases of these responses. Further, it will be critical to elucidate whether factors affect these responses (a) cumulatively or synergistically; and (b) differentially as a function of age, sex, reproductive status, season, and mobility within the urban environment. Research to date has used various taxa that differ greatly not only phylogenetically, but also with regard to ecological requirements, social systems, propensity to consume anthropogenic food, and behavioral responses to human presence. Researchers may instead benefit from standardizing approaches to examine a small number of representative models with wide geographic distribution and that occupy diverse urban ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number114159
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
StatePublished - Feb 1 2023


  • Corticosterone
  • Environment
  • Hormone
  • Metabolism
  • Reproduction
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Endocrinology


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