Wild Animals and Cities

We invented cities thousands of years ago, but they have become the focal points of our civilization in only the past 150 or so years.  As cities get larger and more complex, how do the animals that normally live in those areas adapt?  We’re just getting to the point where animals have had a chance to modify their behaviors to take advantage of how we have changed their worlds.

If you like to follow science, Menno Schilthuizen explores that question in Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution.  This work is new,  and there are few reviews, so I’ll quote the back-cover notes —

We are marching towards a future in which three-quarters of humans live in cities, and a large portion of the planet’s landmass is urbanized.  With much of the rest covered by human-shaped farms, pasture, and plantations, where can nature still go?  To the cities — is Menno Schilthuizen’s answer in this remarkable book.  And with more and more wildlife carving out new niches among humans, evolution takes a surprising turn.  Urban animals evolve to become more cheeky and resourceful, city pigeons develop detox-plumage, and weeds growing from cracks in the pavement get a new type of seeds.  City blackbirds are even on their way of becoming an entirely new species, which we could name Turdus urbanicus.

Thanks to evolutionary adaptation taking place at unprecedented speeds, plants and animals are coming up with new ways of living in the seemingly hostile environments of asphalt and steel that we humans have created.  We are on the verge of a new chapter in the history of life, Schilthuizen says — a chapter in which much old biodiversity is, sadly, disappearing, but also one in which a new and exciting set of life forms is being born.

So if you’re curious about how animals are adapting to us and the environments we create, like birds learning to open bottles and catfish stalking pigeons, you should find Schilthuizen’s analysis very interesting.

Darwin Comes to Town is available on Amazon.com at https://www.amazon.com/Darwin-Comes-Professor-Menno-Schilthuizen/dp/1786481103/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1537746379&sr=1-1  The author is interviewed on the NPR program Science Friday on July 27, 2018 ( https://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/adapt-or-die-in-the-urban-jungle/ ).

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