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Green spaces shape bird characteristics in urban areas

A new study has revealed that urban green space configurations significantly influence the characteristics of bird populations in European cities. 

The research was conducted by an international research team, including experts from the University of Granada and the National Museum of Natural Sciences.

The study highlights an intriguing link between urban designs and avian diversity, and the broader implications for ecosystem enhancement and public health.

Studying urban birds

Urbanization, a defining feature of modern life, profoundly affects biodiversity, particularly avian species. 

Researchers from Finland, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic meticulously analyzed bird communities across nine European cities, including Madrid, Granada, Toledo, and Prague. 

The study was focused on the distribution of 115 bird species in spring and 72 in winter. 

Urban development models

The research team explored two prevalent urban development models: land-sparing and land-sharing. 

Land-sharing is characterized by smaller green spaces, like private gardens and street vegetation, interspersed among single-family homes, and by low population density. 

By contrast, land-sparing involves larger green spaces, such as extensive parks, distinctly separated from densely populated high-rise areas.

Urban bird characteristics 

“For each species identified in the European cities that were studied, we have quantified characteristics such as their degree of feeding specialization, the type of nests they build, the effort they invest in breeding, and their longevity. This has allowed us to assess whether urban design favours species with certain types of traits,” explained study co-author Mario Díaz.

“In previous studies, we had already found that the presence of different bird communities was determined by land-sharing and land-sparing types of urban development,” said study lead author Juan Diego Ibáñez Álamo. “This research has also allowed us to identify the characteristics that allow them to settle in one type of urban area or another.”

Key insights

Specifically, land-sparing areas are conducive to species like stonechats, chiffchaffs, and crested larks, which lay many eggs, use open nests, and have shorter life cycles. 

On the other hand, land-sharing areas attract species like great tits, kestrels, and gulls, known for their demanding breeding requirements and longer life spans.

“We found that birds living in land-sparing areas had a higher reproductive investment and a higher nesting specialization than birds living in land-sharing areas during the breeding season,” wrote the study authors.

“Typical birds from land-sparing urban areas during winter are fast-lived species. Our results indicate that urban development type could have an important role selecting animal traits and provides useful information on how to build more biodiversity-friendly cities.”

Study implications 

“The data we have obtained clearly shows the need to promote a mix of both types of urban development to allow for greater bird diversity. Greater urban biodiversity is not only beneficial for our immediate environment but also for our own health and well-being,” said Díaz.

The research serves as a crucial step toward creating urban landscapes where humans coexist harmoniously with nature.

The study is published in the journal Science of The Total Environment.


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