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The Wilson Journal of Ornithology

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Animal Sciences | Biology | Ornithology


Urbanization alters ecological systems, disturbance regimes, food webs, and a variety of other processes that can influence local flora and fauna. In birds, most studies have focused on behavioral or demographic responses to altered conditions; however, the physiological mechanisms associated with these responses have been understudied. We have previously documented shifts in foraging behavior because of the availability of human-provided food; we sought to see if this was driven by or associated with a change in field metabolic rates. We measured field metabolic rates (FMR), a measure of daily energy expenditure (DEE), of Florida Scrub-Jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens) in 2 habitats using doubly labeled water (DLW). One population of jays lived in wildland habitat, the other in a suburban area where the habitat was badly degraded. During the breeding season FMR of suburban males exceeded that of wildland males by over 100%. Female FMR did not differ between sites but increased following incubation. In the wildlands, FMRs of females were barely lower than those of males, but in the suburban landscape, female FMRs were much lower than in males. For both sexes in the wildlands, FMRs were about 3.53 basal rates of metabolism (BMR) during breeding; in the suburbs female FMR exceeded BMR by 43 but did not differ from that of wildland females. Suburban male FMRs exceeded BMR by 7.13. During the nonbreeding seasons of fall and winter, FMR did not differ between habitats, ranging from 1.73 to 2.13 BMR, thus it is the breeding season that separated wildland and suburban jays energetically. In both habitats, a low water economy index (mL/kJ) and low water fluxes indicated that these jays are well adapted to their xeric habitat, but their FMRs distinguished them from desert birds. The very high energetic cost associated with breeding for suburban males may help explain why in the metapopulation of Florida Scrub-Jays, suburban jay populations are sinks. This study underscores the value of physiology in the conservation of listed species.


Original publication information:

Ellis, H. I., & Bowman, R. (2020). Daily energy expenditure of Florida Scrub-Jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens) in suburban and wildland landscapes. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 132(2), 306-316.