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 well-being depends.

Alberti, M., Correa, C., Marzluff, J., Hendry, A., Palkovacs, E. P., Gotanda, K., Hunt, V., Apgar, T. M. and Y. Zhou. 2017.  Global urban signatures of phenotypic change in animal and plant populations.Proceeding of the National Academies of Science (PNAS) 114(34):8951-8956.

A great challenge for ecology in the coming decades is to understand the role humans play in eco‐evolutionary dynamics. If, as emerging evidence shows, rapid evolutionary change affects ecosystem functioning and stability, current rapid environmental change and its evolutionary effects might have significant implications for ecological and human well-being on a relatively short timescale. Humans are major selective agents with potential for unprecedented evolutionary consequences for Earth’s ecosystems, especially as cities expand rapidly. In this review, I identify emerging hypotheses on how urbanization drives eco-­evolutionary dynamics. Studying how human-­‐driven micro-­‐evolutionary changes interact with ecological processes offers the chance to advance understanding of eco-­evolutionary feedbacks and will provide new insights for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem function over the long term.

Alberti, M. 2015. Eco-­evolutionary dynamics in an urbanizing planet. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 30 (2):114-­126.

eco-evolutionary dynamics


Key human drivers of change (e.g., climate, demographics, economics, and policy) influence eco-­evolutionary dynamics through interactions between human, natural, and built system components of the urban ecosystem through a series of subtle mechanisms.

Emerging mechanisms of how urbanization drives eco-­evolutionary dynamics include: Habitat change (structure and processes), biotic interactions, heterogeneity, novel disturbances, and social interactions.