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Empire of Evolution
July 26, 2011 8:54 PM   Subscribe

Evolution Right Under Our Noses. "A small but growing number of field biologists study urban evolution — the biological changes that cities bring to the wildlife that inhabits them." [Via]
posted by homunculus (42 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just wait until New York City's rat population achieves sentience, declares their allegiance to the Yankees and begins working on Wall Street....

neat article, thanks!
posted by zarq at 8:58 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure the majority of Wall Street's workforce are already rats.
posted by parrot_person at 8:59 PM on July 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Are the moths turning black again?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:01 PM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


I swear the next creationist to irritate me is going to get one of the apparently pesticide immune cockroaches that inhabit my new apartment. Oh no, they can't be immune to pesticide, that would require evolution. You must not be spraying enough. Just a little more. It's perfectly safe; I'm sure the seizures and numbness aren't related to the poison.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:08 PM on July 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Pidgeons that can survive on gum and cigarette buts?
posted by The Whelk at 9:12 PM on July 26, 2011


Well sure that may be MICROevolution, but not MACROevolution!

I kid.
posted by LordSludge at 9:13 PM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


I swear the next creationist to irritate me is going to get one of the apparently pesticide immune cockroaches that inhabit my new apartment.

Not really. That's when creationists discuss the difference between micro and macro evolution. Even my regressive Bob Jones Press science book had a chapter dedicated to explaining the difference between the two.
posted by verb at 9:14 PM on July 26, 2011


I'm just waiting to see which urban animal decides to team up with humans to eradicate the other ones.

My bet is on the corvids but I wouldn't put it past the rats.
posted by The Whelk at 9:15 PM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure the majority of Wall Street's workforce are already rats.

yup. Although presumably the models are more advanced by this time.


But I did, just this evening, go and dig the Science Times section out of the recycling so I could plop this article onto my bosses' desk as an example of how poorly understood the population structures of our commensal species may be. I was really awestruck when Zimmer says that the genetic variation within the white footed mice in a single NYC borough is greater than that found throughout the southwest US:
“The amount of differences you see among populations of mice in the same borough is similar to what you’d see across the whole southeastern United States,”

Obviously we'll have to see the real data, but this is pretty amazing population level diversity, urban or non.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:41 PM on July 26, 2011


Grey colored squirrels used to be the minority with pure black the norm since they could hide better in the dark unbroken forest from the Mississippi to the Atlantic. After the invasion of Sauron and the destruction of Mirkwood the grey colored squirrel became dominate in the broken forest lands. Now the black squirrel is rising again perhaps due to the increased reforestation of the eastern seaboard over the last 100 years of so.
posted by stbalbach at 9:57 PM on July 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


microevolution is changes small enough for me to understand
macroevolution is changes big enough that only GOD could understand them
therefore, only GOD could bring about macroevolution
QED
posted by LogicalDash at 10:10 PM on July 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Pidgeons that can survive on gum and cigarette buts?

As an alumnus of the University of Iowa, I can tell you that pigeons can survive on frozen, vomited-up french fries.

(At least, I think those were french fries)
posted by dirigibleman at 10:27 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


What evolutionary stresses do you suppose result in the horribly malformed feet of so many city pigeons? Could it be the high heels? Or is there something more nefarious going on?
posted by three blind mice at 10:58 PM on July 26, 2011


A totally rhetorical question: I wonder how evolution will unfold for the animals in areas like Chernobyl or Fukishima? It's kind of a complimentary consideration to this article.
posted by quadog at 11:18 PM on July 26, 2011


What evolutionary stresses do you suppose result in the horribly malformed feet of so many city pigeons?

It's usually due to a staph infection.
posted by jamaro at 12:07 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why is the NYT allowed to use the nearly-meaningless phrase "growing number" and "increasing number" in almost every article they write?
posted by meadowlark lime at 12:09 AM on July 27, 2011


Many readers have noted a growing number of articles make use of this trick. Sources familiar with the news suggest it's a lazy old journalistic convention, giving a run-of-the-mill story a more topical flair. Readers are made to feel they're on the cutting edge of a trend, despite the absence of formal analysis.
posted by borborygmi at 12:36 AM on July 27, 2011 [11 favorites]


I'm kind of disheartened that most of the examples of evolution were more "All the X except these ones died when we dumped poison into Y, and now the mutation that let this small subgroup survive is spreading." I was hoping for less "lucky mutants don't die quite as fast" and more finch-beak-length differences.

Oh, well.
posted by Scattercat at 2:20 AM on July 27, 2011


I am reminded of nylon-eating bacteria, which have an enzyme to digest a substance that did not exist before the 20th century. Evolution in action!
posted by dhens at 2:54 AM on July 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm trying to remember where I read this story, but there's a standard test for lab rats where they hang them from a cable and see how long it takes for them to lose their grip and fall to the ground (I think they electrify the ground to incentify the rat not to fall).

Various breeds have different hang times -- seconds, sometimes minutes. Someone tested a NYC sewer rat.

Damn thing pulled itself up onto the cable and walked away.
posted by effugas at 3:34 AM on July 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


Around 30 years ago here in Amsterdam, you'd never see a grey heron within the city limits. They were shy birds, and only on the very outskirts of the city would you begin to spot their sillouettes on the banks of canals and rivers, standing stockstill in their hunting pose. It seemed a very Japanese image. Calm. Serene.

This was a deception. I learned this when one of them moved into my neighborhood. He likes the nightlife and he likes to boogie. Nowadays, when I leave the house I am often skewered by the reptilian stare of my 3-foot-tall avian neighbor. He stands on the hood of my car and gazes fixedly down at me as I humbly request permission to use the vehicle. He strolls down the sidewalk inspecting the premises, eyeing passersby as they deferentially move out of his way. He used to take his girlfriend to the local street market on Saturdays and condescendingly accept patat frites on her behalf - but I think they broke up, I haven't seen her around lately. He has even alighted on the lamppost outside my window and imperiously demanded bacon.

But I have to say that I for one welcome my avian overlord. The only real drawback - besides jumping out of your skin when he unexpectedly decides it's time to let loose a grrèngk! - is that he enjoys defecating on car roofs. When he's been eating elderberries just to be contrary (he's actually a carnivore), the result is, um, rather stunning. The neighbors warn each other when he's on the berries. If you don't clean off your car within 24 hours of his party, the paint on the roof will dissolve down to the metal.
posted by likeso at 4:03 AM on July 27, 2011 [28 favorites]


Just wait until New York City's rat population achieves sentience, declares their allegiance to the Yankees and begins working on Wall Street....

There is "an increasing number" of those rats in Tompkins Square park because they stopped poisoning them. That's in order to save the hawks who would die from eating the poisoned rats. They haven't evolved an immunity to rat poison yet.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:49 AM on July 27, 2011


One of the coolest talks I've been to in grad school was a professor studying the urban coyote population around Chicago. The video of the lady coyote walking down the sidewalk on Michigan Avenue at 9:00 PM one winter evening was ... crazy. Parts of NYC have enough green space that I bet there's a significant population of urban coyotes.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:53 AM on July 27, 2011


Metafilter: grrèngk!
posted by Joe Chip at 6:01 AM on July 27, 2011


Apparently there were several coyotes in Central Park back in 2010, but the City is not keen on them and "relocates" them elsewhere whenever they move in. (One of the coyotes mentioned in that article eventually made it as far downtown as Wall Street, at which point he ran into the law.)

Supposedly they made it into the park from the Bronx or Westchester, by going over the Spuyten Duyvil railroad bridge.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:06 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


likeso: here in Amsterdam. . . grey heron. . . unexpectedly decides it's time to let loose a grrèngk!

Wow -- what an weird accent.
 
posted by Herodios at 6:24 AM on July 27, 2011


Actually, my friends and I were just talking about the differences between urban cows and country cows in India. Wondering if the urban cows had different brains with a higher terror threshold and digested things differently, given the screaming horns and near-misses of traffic in India and their only source of food is the trash laying on the street. Country cows, on the other, just work sometimes but otherwise have a fairly peaceful life, but startle a lot easier. Pretty interesting, I say.
posted by shesdeadimalive at 6:33 AM on July 27, 2011


See? I pollute to promote science.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:58 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow -- what an weird accent.

Herodios, heh. Yes, English-speaking peoples believe it to be "fraaank". And astoundingly, most Dutch folk apparently render it as "schraatsj". I do not concur. My neighbor pronounces it as "grrèngk!" - he told me so yesterday evening. Of course, this might be cant...
posted by likeso at 6:59 AM on July 27, 2011




What excites me about this sort of research is the idea that we could figure out how to make environments, that benefit ourselves, as well as those species that support us. I have this notion that there's a large excluded middle between "back to nature" and "better living through chemistry". I don't know what the "sustainable suburbia" looks like exactly but I wonder why I don't see more written about it.
posted by wobh at 8:32 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


From the article: Evolution has also run in the opposite direction as government agencies cleaned up some of the pollution around New York. No. Adaptation to change is adaptation to change, whether a species adapts to an influx of toxic chemicals or to the removal of toxic chemicals. The mechanisms are the same and evolution does not make human judgements about "pollution" or have some pre-ordained "direction" of change. That's the whole point. The environment is always changing and evolution is always occurring, although the rates of change can vary of course. Otherwise, good article!
posted by binturong at 8:38 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder about the incredible growth in the number of crows (pdf) that I've noticed.

They are very intelligent birds, which perhaps makes them better matches to human habitat than other birds (and may result in their intelligence increasing even more). They also eat other birds, so I wonder what the long term effect will be of the growth of crow populations.
posted by eye of newt at 8:42 AM on July 27, 2011




Pigeons are not birds. They are alien monks, committed to labor to deprive the rats of as much food as possible.
posted by Goofyy at 9:52 AM on July 27, 2011


I've been noticing a general decline of pigeons and a rise of black birds in both Seattle and San Francisco. I understand it is an intentional plan by the black birds to colonize the region, and enjoy the free food human settlements provide. But this colonization project is a violent one. There has been an ongoing baby pigeon massacre. A friend of mine has had various pigeon nests tucked by the stain glass window of his apartment. For two years running, the baby pigeons have been taken out by crows. To make matters worse, the black birds have colluded with commercial building planners and encouraged them to place spikes on pigeon ledges. Crows care not for secretive alcoves in the side of buildings, and so lose nothing in this decades long project to cover the city with pointy wire pigeon scares. This crovid project may run even deeper. I have come across numerous coffee houses with black bird logos.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:53 AM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder about the incredible growth in the number of crows (pdf) that I've noticed.

Yesterday there was a truly humungous one in the office parking garage. He didn't seem particularly bothered by my arrival, and I walked within a few feet of him, as he watched me go by. As I was walking away, he started walking towards my car, and I fully expected to find him standing on it when I got back.
posted by davejay at 10:55 AM on July 27, 2011


So this isn't about the changing styles of moustaches?
posted by Liquidwolf at 11:12 AM on July 27, 2011


likeso: ... He stands on the hood of my car and gazes fixedly down at me as I humbly request permission to use the vehicle. He strolls down the sidewalk inspecting the premises, eyeing passersby as they deferentially move out of his way. He used to take his girlfriend to the local street market on Saturdays and condescendingly accept patat frites on her behalf ... He has even alighted on the lamppost outside my window and imperiously demanded bacon.

I bet he'll evolve a healthy fear of humans once someone figures out how tasty he is grilled or roasted!
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:30 PM on July 27, 2011


Greg_Ace, he's been the Birdfather here for something like 6 years, now. We have adapted, if not evolved. :)

(Grey herons are not endangered but they are ringed and protected in the Netherlands and their life expectancy is 25, so I think we'll be under his - er - protection for some time to come. Kiss the ring! Kiss the ring!)
posted by likeso at 5:46 PM on July 27, 2011


Well see, now you've just spoiled him! :)
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:25 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


But this [crow] colonization project is a violent one. There has been an ongoing baby pigeon massacre.

As a San Francisco resident -- one who is sick of finding still more places on the house that need pigeon spikes -- I applaud this development. All hail the corvids!
posted by phliar at 1:45 PM on July 28, 2011


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