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November 13, 2023

Cities of the Anthropocene: urban sustainability in an eco-evolutionary perspective

Alberti, Marina. (2023). Cities of the Anthropocene: urban sustainability in an eco-evolutionary perspective. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 379:20220264. 20220264.

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Cities across the globe are driving systemic change in social and ecological systems by accelerating the rates of interactions and intensifying the links between human activities and Earth's ecosystems, thereby expanding the scale and influence of human activities on fundamental processes that sustain life. Increasing evidence shows that cities not only alter biodiversity, they change the genetic makeup of many populations, including animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms. Urban-driven rapid evolution in species traits might have significant effects on socially relevant ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling, pollination, water and air purification and food production. Despite increasing evidence that cities are causing rapid evolutionary change, current urban sustainability strategies often overlook these dynamics. The dominant perspectives that guide these strategies are essentially static, focusing on preserving biodiversity in its present state or restoring it to pre-urban conditions. This paper provides a systemic overview of the socio-eco-evolutionary transition associated with global urbanization. Using examples of observed changes in species traits that play a significant role in maintaining ecosystem function and resilience, I propose that these evolutionary changes significantly impact urban sustainability. Incorporating an eco-evolutionary perspective into urban sustainability science and planning is crucial for effectively reimagining the cities of the Anthropocene.

This article is part of the theme issue ‘Evolution and sustainability: gathering the strands for an Anthropocene synthesis’.