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July 1, 2022

Global Urban Signatures of Phenotypic Change in Animal and Plant Populations

Alberti, Marina; Correa, Cristian; Marzluff, John M.; Hendry, Andrew P.; Palkovacs, Eric P.; Gotanda, Kiyoko M.; Hunt, Victoria M.; Apgar, Travis M.; Zhou, Yuyu. (2017). Global Urban Signatures of Phenotypic Change in Animal and Plant Populations. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America, 114(34), 8951 – 8956.

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Humans challenge the phenotypic, genetic, and cultural makeup of species by affecting the fitness landscapes on which they evolve. Recent studies show that cities might play a major role in contemporary evolution by accelerating phenotypic changes in wildlife, including animals, plants, fungi, and other organisms. Many studies of ecoevolutionary change have focused on anthropogenic drivers, but none of these studies has specifically examined the role that urbanization plays in ecoevolution or explicitly examined its mechanisms. This paper presents evidence on the mechanisms linking urban development patterns to rapid evolutionary changes for species that play important functional roles in communities and ecosystems. Through a metaanalysis of experimental and observational studies reporting more than 1,600 phenotypic changes in species across multiple regions, we ask whether we can discriminate an urban signature of phenotypic change beyond the established natural baselines and other anthropogenic signals. We then assess the relative impact of five types of urban disturbances including habitat modifications, biotic interactions, habitat heterogeneity, novel disturbances, and social interactions. Our study shows a clear urban signal; rates of phenotypic change are greater in urbanizing systems compared with natural and nonurban anthropogenic systems. By explicitly linking urban development to traits that affect ecosystem function, we can map potential ecoevolutionary implications of emerging patterns of urban agglomerations and uncover insights for maintaining key ecosystem functions upon which the sustainability of human wellbeing depends.


Phenotypes; Plant Populations; Animal Populations; Biological Evolution; Ecosystems; Urbanization; Sustainability; Anthropocene; Ecoevolution; Ecosystem Function; Modern Life; Evolutionary; Patterns; Ecology; Rates; Disturbance; Dynamics; Traits; Pace; Studies; Genotype & Phenotype; Sustainable Development; Anthropogenic Factors; Fitness; Human Influences; Urban Areas; Urban Development; Species; Disturbances; Wildlife; Fungi; Wildlife Habitats; Social Interactions; Social Factors; Plants (botany); Landscape