Effects of urbanisation on disease prevalence and age structure in blackbird Turdus merula populations

Karl L. Evans, Kevin J. Gaston, Stuart P. Sharp, Andrew McGowan, Michelle Simeoni, Ben J. Hatchwell

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Despite increasing interest in urban ecology most attention has focussed on describing changes in assemblage composition and structure along urbanisation gradients, whilst relatively little research has focussed on the mechanisms behind these changes. Ecological theory predicts that alterations in biotic interactions are particularly likely to arise, especially with regard to disease risk. Here, we report on differences in prevalence of avian malaria and tick infection and intensity in 11 paired urban and rural blackbird Turdus merula populations from across the western Palearctic. We find large and consistent reductions in tick prevalence and intensity in urban areas. There are also large reductions in the prevalence of avian malaria in many, but not all, urban areas. The proportion of first year birds in urban populations is significantly lower than that in rural ones, and across the more natural rural sites southerly populations contain fewer first years than northern ones. These patterns are expected to arise if survival rates are higher in urban areas, and are negatively correlated with latitude.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)774-782
Number of pages9
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2009
Externally publishedYes

Cite this

Evans, K. L., Gaston, K. J., Sharp, S. P., McGowan, A., Simeoni, M., & Hatchwell, B. J. (2009). Effects of urbanisation on disease prevalence and age structure in blackbird Turdus merula populations. Oikos, 118(5), 774-782. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0706.2008.17226.x