Breeding in the pandemic: short-term lockdown restrictions do not alter reproductive decisions and avian life-history traits in a European capital city

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Michela Corsini, Zuzanna Jagiello, Michal Walesiak, Michal Redlisiak, Ignacy Stadnicki , Ewa Mierzejewska, Marta Szulkin


Humans are transforming natural habitats into managed urban green areas and impervious surfaces with unprecedented pace. Yet the effects of human presence per se on animal life-history traits are rarely tested. This is particularly true in cities, where human presence is often indissociable from urbanisation itself. The onset of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, along with the resulting lockdown restrictions, offered a unique, “natural experiment” context to investigate wildlife responses to a sudden reduction of human activities. We analysed four years of avian breeding data collected in a European capital city to test whether lockdown measures altered nestbox occupancy and life-history traits in two urban adapters: great tits (Parus major) and blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus). Lockdown measures, which modulated human presence, did not influence any of the life-history traits inferred. In contrast, tree cover, a distinct ecological attribute of the urban space, positively influenced clutch size, a key avian life-history and reproductive trait. This highlights the importance of habitat and food webs over human activity on animal reproduction in cities. We discuss our results in the light of other urban wildlife studies carried out during the pandemic, inviting the scientific community to carefully interpret all lockdown - associated shifts in biological traits.



Behavior and Ethology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Life Sciences, Other Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


avian, human presence, life-history traits, lockdown, Pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, tree cover, urbanisation


Published: 2021-09-01 13:26


CC-BY Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

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Data and Code Availability Statement:
Data will be made available in an online repository upon publication following peer-review.

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