September 21, 2018

Credit: (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)  

When you think of evolution, you probably imagine a slow process, one that happens in some verdant jungle or plain. For example: Homo Sapiens gradually evolving over millions of years on the savannah. Or the finches of the Galapagos adapting to their unique environment. But Menno Schilthuizen, a biologist and author of Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution, says that evolution can happen a lot faster, and a lot closer to us, than we might think. And humans, along with the cities we build, drive a lot of it.

Three Takeaways:

  • Some types of mice have actually adapted to eat people’s garbage. There are mice in New York City’s Central Park whose digestive systems have evolved to deal with fatty foods, like pizza and peanuts.
  • But it’s not just mice… critters like mosquitoes, moths, blackbirds, and pigeons have all evolved to better live in urban areas. We might think of evolution as a million-year process, but minor changes can happen relatively fast, especially in animals who quickly reproduce. 
  • Schilthuizen’s work has given him a unique perspective on conservation. He believes that we shouldn’t focus on specific species (sorry pandas), and instead prioritize the preservation of a rich ecosystem. 

More Reading:

  • Here’s a New York Times article about a couple of species of fish that - somehow - figured out how to live alongside toxic chemicals.
  • Rats may have evolved to live alongside us, but we don’t necessarily want to live alongside them. Here’s a recent piece we did on a new way of looking at rat extermination.
  • Schilthuizen doesn’t just cast his gaze on urban evolution; he also studies another important aspect of biology… animal genitalia.

Rats, cities, Menno Schilthuizen, animals, Green, evolution

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