“We’ve created a novel ecosystem that no organism has ever seen before,” said Johnson, noting that their study, published Nov. 3 in the journal, Science, is a “wake-up call for the public, governments and other scientists.”
He and Munshi-South suggest that we need to think carefully about how we’re altering our environment in unintended ways when we build cities, influencing the evolution of species that may, in turn, influence our lives. A number of organisms, such as rats, urban lizards, cockroaches, pigeons and bedbugs, have evolved to depend on humans.
There are now mosquitoes, for example, that have evolved to live in the London Underground stations and adapted so that they no longer need to feed on blood to produce eggs. They also have no need to become dormant during the winter. Unfortunately, these mosquitoes can carry a number of diseases and are now found in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, too. Our healthcare systems may be required to adapt in response.
Johnson and Munshi-South suggest that when we’re planning cities, we need to think about the impact our designs have on native species and whether we can design them to “be kinder to ourselves and the environment,” considering ways to conserve native species and mitigate the prevalence of disease-carrying pests.
Given that species are evolving so rapidly in response to urbanization, the outdoors also becomes a classroom that offers an opportunity to see examples of evolution firsthand. Urban evolution can be used as a tool to educate city dwellers and others about the reality and importance of evolutionary biology.
”People who don’t believe in evolution need not go further than their backyards to see evidence of it,” Johnson said. Paper. (paywall) – Marc T. J. Johnson, Jason Munshi-South. Evolution of life in urban environments. Science, 2017; 358 (6363): eaam8327 DOI: 10.1126/science.aam8327 More.
This “urban evolution” theme pops up in science media now and then. It turns on ambiguities around the term “evolution.” If it just means adaptations, life forms do that all the time. Wild creatures become pets or urban wildlife (like the raccoons below) but may go feral and/or head for the wilderness again in a disaster. See, for example, what happened at Chernobyl, after twenty-five years.
Evolution is only a significant concept if it refers to irreversible change that is a gain rather than a loss of information (a loss is devolution).
The “cities as engines of evolution” theme is wonderful fun but it suggests that we are hard up for true instances of explicitly Darwinian evolution.
See also: New York City mice may be evolving to eat fast food like pizza You have to be pretty hard up for evidence of evolution if you think this is evolution
Darwin’s wastebasket: Time perception, evolutionary psychology, and Donald Trump
Are humans driving new burst of evolution? Evidence cited is unclear
After Chernobyl, Eden?
If these Toronto raccoons could read, they would know enough to hit the green bin for edible garbage. The blue bins are for glass and metal and the grey ones are for paper:
Here’s a strategy that probably won’t work but makes people feel like they are doing something. That’s evolution too, you see…