Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution - Menno Schilthuizen

Staff Pick

As cities take over the world, what exactly happens to nature? In one of the more hopeful pictures of the Anthropocene, Schilthuizen, an evolutionary biologist, cites humans as one of nature’s best “ecosystem engineers” (ants are another), and gives a global tour of cities as fresh ecological niches for plants and animals whose habitats were once rural. While many species have disappeared in the wake of humans’ relentless destruction of the wild, many are finding ways to take advantage of new opportunities in the man-made environment, and they are evolving nearly as fast as we’re transforming the landscape, a phenomenon known as Human-Induced Rapid Evolutionary Change. HIREC has been observed in a wide range of creatures, from microorganisms to insects to large mammals. The most dramatic and well-documented cases involve birds. Urban varieties sing at higher pitches than their country cousins, to be heard above traffic; they sing earlier, starting before dawn; and they breed months ahead of when they used to, no longer needing to migrate, given the reliable food source of humans’ leftovers. Meanwhile, in Mexico swallows include cigarette butts in their nests, having learned that the nicotine kills mites, and plants worldwide can develop a “seaside biome” to tolerate the concentration of de-icing salt in the soil. Schilthuisen has dozens of fascinating stories of how nature is responding to urban conditions in novel and surprising ways. He also uses the examples to discuss key terms of his trade and to define the differences between genetic evolution and learned behavior. He’s as engaging on the concepts of epigenetics and pre-adaptations as he is on the unprecedented phenomenon of catfish catching pigeons along French waterfronts.

Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250127822
Availability: Coming Soon—Pre-Order Now
Published: Picador USA - April 3rd, 2018

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