Urban living influences the nesting success of Darwin’s finches in the Galápagos Islands

Johanna A. Harvey, Kiley Chernicky, Shelby R. Simons, Taylor B. Verrett, Jaime A. Chaves, Sarah A. Knutie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Urbanization is expanding worldwide with major consequences for organisms. Anthropogenic factors can reduce the fitness of animals but may have benefits, such as consistent human food availability. Understanding anthropogenic trade-offs is critical in environments with variable levels of natural food availability, such as the Galápagos Islands, an area of rapid urbanization. For example, during dry years, the reproductive success of bird species, such as Darwin's finches, is low because reduced precipitation impacts food availability. Urban areas provide supplemental human food to finches, which could improve their reproductive success during years with low natural food availability. However, urban finches might face trade-offs, such as the incorporation of anthropogenic debris (e.g., string, plastic) into their nests, which may increase mortality. In our study, we determined the effect of urbanization on the nesting success of small ground finches (Geospiza fuliginosa; a species of Darwin's finch) during a dry year on San Cristóbal Island. We quantified nest building, egg laying and hatching, and fledging in an urban and nonurban area and characterized the anthropogenic debris in nests. We also documented mortalities including nest trash-related deaths and whether anthropogenic materials directly led to entanglement- or ingestion-related nest mortalities. Overall, urban finches built more nests, laid more eggs, and produced more fledglings than nonurban finches. However, every nest in the urban area contained anthropogenic material, which resulted in 18% nestling mortality while nonurban nests had no anthropogenic debris. Our study showed that urban living has trade-offs: urban birds have overall higher nesting success during a dry year than nonurban birds, but urban birds can suffer mortality from anthropogenic-related nest-materials. These results suggest that despite potential costs, finches benefit overall from urban living and urbanization may buffer the effects of limited resource availability in the Galápagos Islands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5038-5048
Number of pages11
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Galápagos Islands
  • Geospiza fuliginosa
  • La Nińa
  • anthropogenic debris
  • dry year
  • entanglement
  • nest material
  • trash
  • urban ecology


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