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Our current work investigates Sonoran Desert songbirds, particularly those inhabiting the Phoenix metropolitan area, as experimental models to better understand how wildlife adapts to urbanization and the mechanisms that underlie this adaptation. We use an integrated eco-physiological and behavioral approach and are particularly interested in the effects of urbanization on the reproductive physiology and behavior of native birds, as well as in identifying factors that mediate these effects. In preparation for breeding, seasonally breeding urban birds often recrudesce their reproductive system earlier and faster than corresponding rural birds. As a consequence, urban birds may have a longer annual breeding season and, therefore, a higher annual and lifetime breeding success than rural birds. Food availability plays a critical role in shaping life history transitions and reproductive cycles: most seasonally breeding organisms have evolved responses to environmental factors such that they reproduce when food resources needed to successfully raise their offspring are seasonally most abundant. Given this evidence, we hypothesize that differences in food availability between urban and rural environments is critical to controlling the above differences in reproductive development and phenology. This hypothesis is being tested by combining correlative field studies with investigations (e.g., “common garden” experiments) in which urban and rural native birds are brought into captivity and then exposed to strictly identical and controlled conditions. This general approach has the potential to improve our understanding of phenotypic plasticity and have ramifications for questions related to the development and management of urban spaces that designed to be used and shared by humans and wildlife.



June 2008 — Ongoing