The Degree of Urbanization of a Species Affects How Intensively It Is Studied: A Global Perspective

Juan D. Ibanez-Alamo*, Enrique Rubio, Kwanye Bitrus Zira

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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The expansion of urban areas is currently one of themost important worldwide landscape changes. This process, termed urbanization, has important ecological effects and is known to alter many aspects of the biology of organisms (including birds). However, human-nature interactions can also be affected by this process. We hypothesized that urbanization can particularly affect how intensively we investigate birds. We predict that species living in close proximity to humans will be more easily or preferably studied, thus promoting a bias in research effort toward urban birds. In order to test this hypothesis we have collected a detailed database of urban and non-urban avian communities including information from five biogeographic realms and more than 750 bird species. We obtained four different indicators of research effort (two previously considered and two new ones) as well as information on different confounding factors that are known to affect research effort such as conservation status, body mass, distribution range and phylogeny, in addition to the previously unconsidered historical factor of year of description of the species. We found a positive and significant association between the degree of urbanization of a species and how frequently it is investigated. We also found the expected effect for biogeographic realm, body mass and distribution range, and year of description, but not for conservation status. In addition, we found a strong correlation among all research effort variables which support the use of Google Scholar as a reliable source for these kind of studies. Our findings suggest that urbanization is not only affecting the biology of organisms but also how we study them. These results might have important implications if this research bias is maintained in the long term. Future investigation should aim at exploring the ultimate reasons for this research bias toward urban birds and whether it is also happening for other groups of organisms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number41
Number of pages8
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Publication statusPublished - 11-May-2017


  • birds
  • human-nature interactions
  • research effort
  • urbanization

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