Rats, Bedbugs, Mosquitoes Are Rapidly Evolving in Urban Environments

As the cities all around us continue to grow, so are all the creatures who reside there. And as we watch and observe those current landscapes change quickly, all the other living things such as the plants and animals who live in them have to adapt and change right along with them. A recent reported that was posted by Marc Johnson, who happens to be an associate professor of biology from the University of Toronto Mississauga, and Jason Munshi-South, who is an associate professor of biological sciences from Fordham University claim that this change in city skylines have probably caused several unintended alteration in the delicate evolutionary timeline.

Evaluating Native Species in Rapid Urban Changes

“As we build cities, we have little understanding of how they are influencing organisms that live there,” Johnson was quoted in a report posted in the official website of the University of Toronto. However, when an organism has the ability to adapt to environmental changes is generally a desirable thing, but it can affect the environment. The good thing about native species that thrive is that they really support the existing ecosystem and actually help replenish it, but if all these survivors from various ecosystems adjust to city life, it could be disastrous for many native species and negative impact the ecological balance.

Can Native Species Adapt?

The fear is that a few these surviving organisms which will adapt to changing cities may accelerate the transmission of diseases. For instance, bedbugs were quite scarce just two decades ago, but they have managed to adapt to all the insecticides that had been used to exterminate them. And we are observing recent explosions in their numbers as indicated by the British Airways flight recently, that was literally overrun with bedbugs.

Research teams had studied data that they had collected on evolution and urbanization to help us understand how the changing effects of cities on living animals that live within them. These results were posted in the publication journal Science.

“Traditionally, we’ve thought about evolution as a long-term process driven by environmental pressures and the interactions between species. But now there is a new driver that is rapidly changing many other species, which is how they interact with humans and our built environment,” Munshi-South stated inside this posted reported. “Humans and our cities are one of the most dominant forces of contemporary evolution now.”

As stated earlier, existing native species are the ones who are most negatively affected. Any loss of habitat dramatically poses severe challenges to many species. According to the final report, “the researchers assessed various means of genetic adaptation, such as mutation, the movement of genes through dispersal, neutral evolution and adaptive evolution through Darwinian natural selection, concluding that the urban environment has an impact on each of these mechanisms of evolution.”

This study included plants, birds, mammals, insects, amphibians, reptiles, and also viruses. The research team managed to identify the several evolutionary impacts on a huge variety of species that ranged from common blackbirds who lived in Europe to the white-footed mouse from North America. This study indicated changes in every particular species. “The white-footed mice in New York City became differentiated from each other after urbanization, due to their isolation in various parks,” stated the report.

“We’ve created a novel ecosystem that no organism has ever seen before,” Johnson said. He requested that governments need to realize the kind of impact we are creating on animals. There must be further research on all the micro changes in physical features and mental functions within urban animals.

One of the big observations is that animals that live inside urban environments are evolving much more rapidly than those that live in nature. The scientists are using mosquitoes in London as example. There they observed how mosquitoes had evolved in order to survive in underground stations in such a way that they did not have to feed on blood any longer to produce their eggs. This change is a very rapid one because underground systems are relatively free of recent developments in the history of humans. And they no longer need to go dormant during winter seasons. “Unfortunately, these mosquitoes can carry a number of diseases and are now found in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, too. Our healthcare systems may be required to adapt in response,” the report pointed out.