Urban great tits found to be genetically different from cousins in countryside

A great tit (PA Media)
12:19pm, Thu 20 May 2021
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Great tits which live in cities have been found to be genetically different from the same species residing in the countryside.

New research across Europe – led by Lund University in Sweden in collaboration with the University of Glasgow – compared city bird genes with those of their relatives in the countryside.

The study, published on Thursday in Nature Communications, examined 192 great tits among populations in Malmo, Gothenburg, Madrid, Munich, Paris, Barcelona, Glasgow, Lisbon and Milan.

Birds in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park were studied as well as great tits from around the forest in the University of Glasgow’s Scottish Centre for Ecology and the Natural Environment facility near Loch Lomond.

The findings suggest that despite similarities with their countryside counterparts, city birds evolve to handle an environment created by humans regardless of location.

Kelvingrove Park

Dr Pablo Salmon from the University of Glasgow said: “It is surprising that cities, which from an evolutionary perspective are a recent phenomenon, are already leaving their footprint in the genome of birds.”

Researchers analysed more than half a million single-nucleotide polymorphisms spread over the entire genome.

They found different genes linked to biological functions regulated by serotonin, including aggression and circadian rhythms, had been passed on from generation to generation in the city birds.

In rural populations, these behaviours are just as important but the genes do not give the same advantage as an urban environment.

Caroline Isaksson, senior lecturer at Lund University, led the study with Dr Salmon.

She said: “This indicates that these behaviours, and cognition, are very important in order to live in urban environments with a lot of stress in the form of noise pollution, light at night, air pollution and constant proximity to people.”

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