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Heritability of fear of humans in urban and rural populations of a bird species

AuthorsCarrtete, Martina; Martínez-Padilla, Jesús ; Rodríguez-Martínez, Sol; Rebolo-Ifrán, Natalia; Palma, Antonio; Tella, José Luis
Issue Date2016
PublisherNature Publishing Group
CitationScientific Reports, 6:31060 (2016)
AbstractFlight initiation distance (FID), a measure of an animal’s tolerance to human disturbance and a descriptor of its fear of humans, is increasingly employed for conservation purposes and to predict the response of species to urbanization. However, most work devoted to understanding variability in FID has been conducted at the population level and little is still known about inter-individual variability in this behaviour. We estimated the heritability of FID, a factor fundamental to understanding the strength and evolutionary consequences of selection of particular phenotypes associated with human disturbances. We used a population of burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) monitored long-term and for which FID was previously shown to be highly consistent across an individual’s lifespan. Heritability estimates varied between 0.37 and 0.80, depending on the habitat considered (urban-rural) and method used (parent-offspring regressions or animal models). These values are unusually high compared with those previously reported for other behavioural traits. Although more research is needed to fully understand the underlying causes of this resemblance between relatives, selection pressures acting on this behaviour should be seriously considered as an important evolutionary force in animal populations increasingly exposed to human disturbance worldwide
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/srep31060
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