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Breath rate of passerines across an urbanization gradient supports the pace‐of‐life hypothesis and suggests diet‐mediated responses to handling stress

Liang, Dan; He, Chao; Luo, Xu; Liu, Yang; Goodale, Eben; Pagani‐Núñez, Emilio


Dan Liang

Chao He

Xu Luo

Yang Liu

Eben Goodale


The pace-of-life hypothesis predicts no impact of urbanization on stress responses. Accordingly, several studies have been inconsistent in showing differences in breath rate (BR), a proxy of acute stress responses to handling in passerines, between rural and urban areas. However, this evidence is limited to a single bird species and a limited geographic region (SW Europe). No study addressed whether this pattern is also apparent in other species or regions, such as in tropical environments, or whether it is dependent on the level of diet specialization, given that diet restriction and change influence stress responses. Here, we tested whether there were differences in BR between habitats and diet groups using eight highly diverse passerine assemblages experiencing different levels of anthropogenic disturbance (i.e., natural, rural, and urban locations) in SW China. We predicted that insectivores and herbivores (frugivores, nectarivores, and seed-eating species) would show higher BR than omnivores. We also predicted no differences in BR among habitat types. BR was a moderately repeatable trait, which showed a negative relationship with body mass and a positive relationship with the time of the day. We also recorded a relatively strong phylogenetic bias in the expression of this trait. Confirming our predictions, our results showed no differences in BR among natural, rural, and urban locations. Similarly, within species, there were no differences in BR between rural and urban locations. However, we also found that herbivores showed higher BR than omnivores. Overall, our results provide support to the pace-of-life hypothesis, but suggest acute stress responses can be diet-mediated, which may help to explain the marked decline of specialized trophic guilds around the world in response to anthropogenic disturbance.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 20, 2018
Online Publication Date Aug 29, 2018
Publication Date 2018-09
Deposit Date Nov 2, 2022
Publicly Available Date Nov 2, 2022
Journal Ecology and evolution
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 8
Issue 18
Pages 9526-9535
Keywords acute stress responses, anthropogenic disturbance, diet specialization, handling stress, trophic guild, urban–rural differences
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