The common hamster as a synurbist: a history of settlement in european cities

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Abstract

Following the expansion of agriculture in the Neolithic period, the common hamster has spread throughout Europe, and occurred abundantly until the recent past. However, in the last 45 years, populations declined markedly, partly attributable to urbanization and to major changes in agricultural practices. As a result, the species has been considered endangered at international levels as well as in most European countries. At the same time, the species has established populations in large Central and Eastern-European cities such as Vienna (Austria), Simferopol (Ukraine) and Nalchik (Russia), where it inhabits green spaces such as parks, gardens, embankments and buffer strips. In an attempt to reveal factors enabling hamsters to cope with urban environments, we reviewed historical data and habitat conditions of several urban hamster populations. We suggest that supplemental food resources and reduced predation pressure were the main factors promoting urban occurrence of common hamsters in the last 30 years. Its notable adaptability may be associated with higher stress resilience, ecological opportunism, polyphagy and higher fertility compared to species relying on non-urban habitats. The phenomenon of synurbization implies coexistence of wildlife and our urban civilization, but at the same time conflicting interests in conservation and urban development. Thus, the common hamster might serve as a model species for efficient mitigation and compensation concepts in urbanism and spatial planning.

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