Urbanisation and land use changes have an ongoing and important effect on the evolution of organisms in these spaces. A new study led by the University of Washington has examined 1.600 instances of changes in species’ observable traits (phenotypic change), such as size and behaviour. It found that urbanisation is driving phenotypic change across a wide number of species.
“We found a clear urban signal of phenotypic change — and greater phenotypic change in urbanizing systems compared to natural and non-urban anthropogenic, or human-created systems,” said Marina Alberti, professor of urban design and planning and director of the Urban Ecology Research Lab in the UW College of Built Environments. “By explicitly linking urban development to heritable traits that affect ecosystem function, we can begin to map the implications of human-induced trait changes for ecological and human well-being.”
Urbanisation and loss of habitat drives relocation, adaptation or even extinction of species across the globe, the researchers found. They analysed 1,600 observations of phenotypic change across regions and ecosystems throughout the world, in an attempt to isolate those caused by urbanisation. They also assessed the impact of “urban disturbances,” such as the acidification and pollution of lake habitats, the relocation of animals, heat and effluent associated with a power plant, long-term harvesting of certain medicinal plants — even the apparent effects of global warming on the reproductive patterns of birds.
“The significance of these changes is that they affect the functioning of ecosystems,” Alberti said. “They may inhibit the ability of seeds to disperse, cause exposure to infectious diseases, or even change the migratory patterns of some species.”
The researchers identified many instances of human-driven changes to ecosystems, such as earlier mating seasons in 65 species of migratory birds in Western Europe, and the emergence of novel habitats near galvanised transmission towers for plants with high zinc tolerance. Alberti calls for collaboration among evolutionary biologists, conservation biologists and urban scientists to better understand how humans may affect evolutionary processes and to inform conservation strategies so that impacts on vulnerable species can be managed and better understood.
Source: Seas Fire
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