Urban-rural differences in eye, bill, and skull allometry in house finches (haemorhous mexicanus)

Pierce Hutton, Kevin McGraw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Allometry, the proportional scaling of log trait size with log body size, evolves to optimize allocation to growth of separate structures and is a major constraint on the functional limits of animal traits. While there are many studies demonstrating the rigidity of allometry across traits and taxa, comparatively less work has been done on allometric variation across environments within species. Rapidly changing environments, such as cities, may be prime systems for studying the flexibility of allometry because they uniquely alter many environmental parameters (e.g., habitat, light, noise). We studied size variation, allometry, and allometric dispersion of craniofacial traits in both sexes of urban and rural house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) because many traits in the head are ecologically critical to the survival and acclimation of birds to their environment (e.g., brain: response to cognitive challenges; bill: foraging modes). We found that urban finches had shorter eye axial lengths and skull widths, but longer (but not wider or deeper) bills, than rural finches. Also, allometric slopes of eye, skull, and bill traits differed based on sex and environment. In the rural environment, females had a far steeper allometric slope for eye axial length than males, but such slopes were similar between males and females in the city. Skull allometry was similar for males and females in both environments, but urban birds had a shallower slope for skull length (but not width) than rural birds. Other traits only differed by sex (males had a steeper slope for bill width), and one trait did not differ based on either sex or environment (bill depth). The dispersion of points around the allometric line did not differ by sex or environment for any craniofacial variable. Due to the significant but low genetic divergence between urban and rural finch populations, allometric differences are probably largely driven by plastic forces. We suggest that differences in diet and cognitive demand of urban environments may drive these allometric patterns. Overall, these results indicate that allometry may shift due to rapid environmental change and differentially so between the sexes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1215-1224
Number of pages10
JournalIntegrative and comparative biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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