Constraints on home range behaviour affect nutritional condition in urban house sparrows (Passer domesticus).

  • August 24, 2010
  • by Carl Vangestel, Bart P. Braeckman, Hans Matheve, Luc Lens

In human-dominated landscapes (semi)natural habitats are typically embedded in tracts of unsuitable habitat. Under such conditions, habitat characteristics and grain size of the surrounding landscape may affect how much food, and at what cost, is available for sedentary species with low home-range plasticity. Here we combine behavioural radio-tracking, feather ptilochronology, and landscape analysis to test how nutritional condition varies with home range size in 13 house sparrow [Passer domesticus (Linnaeus, 1758)] populations along an urban gradient. Urban individuals occupied smaller home ranges than conspecifics from rural areas, most distinctly if key cover was highly scattered. In urban plots, patch connectivity, home range sizes, and activity areas were positively correlated, indicating that individual ranging behaviour was related to the spatial distribution of suitable habitat. Urban House sparrows also showed the smallest feather growth bars, which were positively related to home range size at plot level. In contrast, growth bar widths and home range sizes were negatively related in rural populations, whereas in suburban populations, both variables varied independently. We conclude that individuals from progressively more built-up areas show a restricted ability to adjust their daily ranging behaviour to the scattered distribution of critical resources. This may complement other putative causes of the widespread population decline of urban house sparrows.