The Effect of Urban Environments on the Ecology and Evolution of a Bird Species

EPA Grant Number: U915994
Title: The Effect of Urban Environments on the Ecology and Evolution of a Bird Species
Investigators: Yeh, Pamela J.
Institution: University of California - San Diego
EPA Project Officer: Michaud, Jayne
Project Period: January 1, 2001 through January 1, 2004
Project Amount: $82,598
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2001) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Terrestrial Ecology and Ecosystems , Academic Fellowships , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration


The objective of this research project is to study how selection pressures operating in urban habitats may lead to morphological, plumage, behavioral, and song differences in the urban Junco population, compared with populations in natural habitats. Urban environments provide examples of present-day novel habitats, and have the potential to play a major role in shaping the ecological and evolutionary trajectories of many species. The recent establishment of a small passerine bird, the Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis, in an urban environment provides a model system in which to examine in depth the initial stages of population adaptation to an urban environment.


My research seeks to provide specific causes and effects of urbanization on a bird species. I specifically address two questions. First, have Juncos in the urban habitat exhibited any morphological, plumage, or behavioral changes since their invasion in 1983? Second, are there differences between the urban and mountain Junco populations in song traits, such as levels of song, timing of daily singing patterns, song length, and trill rate? If so, are these song traits correlated with differences in environmental factors (e.g., level and timing of background noise, acoustic properties) such that songs will be optimally communicated in their respective habitats?

I anticipate both technical and social benefits from this work. Technically, the results will help policymakers and developers include a consideration of biological processes in the design of urban areas, in addition to offering insight into some of the effects of urbanization on species. Socially, this research will highlight the impacts of urbanization on evolutionary trajectories of species, and should, therefore, increase awareness and dialogue about this critical issue associated with urbanization.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis, bird ecology, bird evolution, bird urbanization.

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2001
  • 2002
  • Final