Urbanization and The Creation of Cities is Affecting Evolution

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Urbanization is essentially the process of making somewhere urbaner.  It also refers to the population shift from rural to urban areas.  The problem with urbanization is it brings many consequences along with it, including an explosion of bedbugs, mosquitoes, and rats.

As we build cities, we have little understanding of how they are influencing organisms that live there,” says Marc Johnson, an associate professor of biology at the University of Toronto Mississauga.  “It’s good news that some organisms are able to adapt, such as native species that have important ecological functions in the environment.  But it can also be bad news that the ability of some of these organisms to adapt to our cities might increase the transmission of disease.  Bedbugs, for example, were scarce two decades ago, but they’ve adapted to the insecticides used to keep them at bay and have exploded in abundance worldwide.”

Along with Jason Munshi-South, an associate professor of biological sciences at Fordham University, Johnson reviewed all the results from previous studies involving evolution and urbanization.  “Traditionally, we’ve thought about evolution as a longterm process driven by environmental pressures and the interactions between species.  But now there is a new driver that is rapidly changing many other species, which is how they interact with humans and our built environment,” says Munshi-South.  “Humans and our cities are one of the most dominant forces of contemporary evolution now.”

The study highlights which animals are able to adapt to urbanization and whether they influence the evolution of humans and the ecosystem in any way.  Urbanization causes a loss of habitat and the creation of new barriers such as roads and buildings for animals to navigate too.

Various means of genetic adaptations were assessed as part of the research including mutations and the movement of genes through its various stages of evolution.  The conclusion being that the urban environment does, in fact, have an impact on the different mechanisms of evolution.

The study focused on many different species of animals including plants, reptiles, mammals, and insects to see how each of them reacted to urbanization.  What the researchers discovered was that different species evolved differently after urbanization depending on how isolated they were.  “We’ve created a novel ecosystem that no organism has ever seen before,” said Johnson.

Both Johnson and Munshi-South suggest we begin thinking about how we’re affecting the environment when we construct cities.  Influencing the evolution of other species may affect the evolution of our own if we’re not careful.  Various organisms have learned to depend on humans including rats, pigeons, and bedbugs.  With species evolving so quickly to urbanization, we can learn a lot of first hand and can use this knowledge to educate others.  Like Johnson said, “People who don’t believe in evolution need not go further than their backyards to see evidence of it.”

Research Via; University of Toronto

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