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Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution

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From evolutionary biologist Menno Schilthuizen, a book that will make you see yourself and the world around you in an entirely new way

*Carrion crows in the Japanese city of Sendai have learned to use passing traffic to crack nuts.

*Lizards in Puerto Rico are evolving feet that better grip surfaces like concrete.

*Europe’s urban blackbirds sing at a higher pitch than their rural cousins, to be heard over the din of traffic.

How is this happening?

Menno Schilthuizen is one of a growing number of “urban ecologists” studying how our manmade environments are accelerating and changing the evolution of the animals and plants around us. In Darwin Comes to Town , he takes us around the world for an up-close look at just how stunningly flexible and swift-moving natural selection can be.

With human populations growing, we’re having an increasing impact on global ecosystems, and nowhere do these impacts overlap as much as they do in cities. The urban environment is about as extreme as it gets, and the wild animals and plants that live side-by-side with us need to adapt to a whole suite of challenging conditions: they must manage in the city’s hotter climate (the “urban heat island”); they need to be able to live either in the semidesert of the tall, rocky, and cavernous structures we call buildings or in the pocket-like oases of city parks (which pose their own dangers, including smog and free-rangingdogs and cats); traffic causes continuous noise, a mist of fine dust particles, and barriers to movement for any animal that cannot fly or burrow; food sources are mainly human-derived. And yet, as Schilthuizen shows, the wildlife sharing these spaces with us is not just surviving, but evolving ways of thriving.

Darwin Comes toTown draws on eye-popping examples of adaptation to share a stunning vision of urban evolution in which humans and wildlife co-exist in a unique harmony. It reveals that evolution can happen far more rapidly than Darwin dreamed, while providing a glimmer of hope that our race toward over population might not take the rest of nature down with us.

304 pages, Paperback

First published February 8, 2018

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Menno Schilthuizen

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Profile Image for Lori.
353 reviews423 followers
December 3, 2020
"Nature is not a place to visit. It is home." -- Gary Snyder

"While we have been trying to save the world’s crumbling pre-urban ecosystem, we have been ignoring the fact that nature has already been putting up the scaffolds to build novel, urban ecosystems for the future." -- Menno Schilthuizen, Ph.D., in "Darwin Comes to Town"


I love this book. There's a reason I highlighted 350 passages -- I had to stop myself from highlighting all of it -- and though I finished it in October I still read highlights regularly. Dr. S. is a Professor of Biodiversity at Leiden University in The Netherlands. He also spent years doing field work and teaching in Borneo and grew up in a suburb of Rotterdam that's now paved over. This is a practical book focusing on the beneficial ways rapid evolution and behavioral adaptations are occurring in cities as increasingly cities contain greater numbers of the global human population. Rapid evolution and adaptation are occurring as a result. He's done a marvelous job writing complex science for the lay person with easy prose, clarity and at times good-natured humor. I adored his company.

Rapid evolution is just what it sounds like, and Darwin didn't believe it was possible but it is and it's been proven. Dr. S. is open that it's difficult to prove; it must be done under carefully controlled conditions. There are examples in this book that may be the result of adaptation, not rapid evolution, and he is clear about what is settled science, what is educated guess and what is not yet known to be one or the other. I appreciate his honesty and the effort he went to, to make those important distinctions.

The first proven example of rapid evolution due to urban growth is that of the peppered moth in Manchester, England. It lives in trees and ordinarily has white wings with a sprinkling of black, the better to blend in with those trees to try and hide from its predators: birds. Between 1770 and 1850 the population of Manchester grew from 24,000 to 350,000. Coal-driven pollution and other things turned the city sooty and its skies black. The wings of the peppered moths living in Manchester turned black too. The ones in Manchester's forests kept their light coloration. Beginning in the 1950s the city's pollution was cleaned up, it was in time restored and the wings of the urban moths turned back to their original coloring, white with black, which was now more protective in city as well as forest.

This is far from the most scintillating example in the book but it's one of the ones in which the results have been replicated at university labs using strict peer-reviewed science, proving rapid evolution truly is a Thing. It's great to read a book that's not about extinction. Dr. S. offers case after case of species thriving in cities in new ways and new species thriving too. It's uplifting and there are so many examples from all over the world and all types of species I enjoy revisiting my highlights. (This book is what made me at last love my Kindle; now I have two.)

Anole lizards in Puerto Rico have evolved heavier toe pads than their suburban and rain forest counterparts, the better to stick to smooth surfaces, including walls, and run faster on them.

Hawksbeard plants -- which are like dandelions, and produce light and heavy seeds -- in Montpellier have rapidly evolved a different way of spreading their seeds on city streets than in the suburbs and forests of Montpellier. The little squares where trees are planted on the sidewalks are teeming with life. Hawksbeards in these squares have rapidly evolved to produce more heavy seeds, which fall straight down. Because of this their survival is all but ensured on these "city islands."

Bird species in cities all over the world, frogs in Australia, grasshoppers in Germany and more have changed the pitch and volume of their mating calls to be heard over urban noise, which is so different from the noise of forests. At least one species of bird has adapted so it now sings its mating calls before the start of rush-hour traffic.

On city roads across Japan, carrion crows have adapted to traffic by using the cars to crack their nuts. They place the shells in front of slow-moving cars which then run them over. When the cars move they rush to collect their auto-shelled nuts.

Starting with Japan and spreading to other places including Italy and New York City, urban planners are working on ways to attract and sustain wildlife in city environments. Some tall buildings especially in Japan, where this was first developed, and now New York and elsewhere, have gardens on top, some far more complex and biodiverse areas atop and throughout the cities. In Milan a green architect built the remarkable Bosco Verticale (vertical forest), in which over seven hundred trees rise with two residential towers.

Dr. S.'s enthusiasm is contagious. His book is full of fascinating examples of rapid evolution and adaptation all over the world among all types of species. Thanks to the wonders of nature, now with the assistance of green architects and green urban planners, there's a lot of thriving wildlife in urban environments. Aided by rapid evolution and adaptation, cities will continue to or once again support species as diverse in number and variety as the people who build, work and live in them.
Profile Image for Arman.
279 reviews182 followers
July 8, 2022
*این یاداشت توسط مترجم نوشته شده است و صرفاً جنبه معرفی کتاب را دارد.

اکولوژی شهری چی هست؟

با گسترش روزافزون و افسارگسیخته‌ی شهر و تجاوز آن‌ها به دلِ عرصه‌های طبیعی، از حدود دهه 70 میلادی بسیاری از طبیعیدانان به این نتیجه می‌رسند که باید به طور سیستماتیک و کاملا روشمند به مطالعه‌ی زیستِ موجودات زنده‌ی وحشی در درون شهرها، این جزایر زیست‌شناختی بپردازند؛ مطالعاتی که از همان ابتدا مسیر خود را از «طراحی چشم‌اندازهای شهری» جدا می‌کند، و بر روی فیزیولوژی و رفتارشناسی فلور گیاهی و فون جانوری‌ای که به دلِ زیستگاه‌های شهری نفوذ کرده اند، متمرکز شد.
در یکی دو دهه‌ی اخیر با پیشرفت مطالعات فیلوژنتیکی و دسترسی آسان به دوربین‌های تله‌ای و ادوات سبک ضبط صوت، و درک و پذیرشِ برگشت ناپذیریِ روند شهری شدنِ جهان توسط اکولوژیست‌ها، حجم مطالعات در حوزه‌ی اکولوژی شهری افزایش چشمگیری پیدا کرد؛ مطالعاتی که بر روی نحوه‌ی زیست‌پذیری و سازگاری این گونه با شهرها، و تأثیرات ساختار فیزیکی شهرها و انواع آلودگی‌های انسانی بر روی آن‌ها متمرکز هستند.

مِنو شیلتهویزِن و چارلز داروین در برابر ��مان

شیلتهویزن از پژوهشگران ارشد مرکز تنوع زیستی ناتورالیس و استاد زیست‌شناسی تکاملی در دانشگاه لیدن هلند می‌باشد. او پژوهش‌های متعددی در زمینه‌ی اکولوژی شهری انجام داده است.
او در این کتاب به سراغ چارلز داروین می‌رود و تلاش می‌کند تا به نتایج مطالعات بسیار متنوع و گسترده‌ی اکولوژی شهری از منظری تکاملی بنگرد و این سوال پر مجادله و بجث برانگیز را می‌پرسد که آیا ممکن است شهرها نیز همچون جزایر گالاپاگوسی که داروین به آن‌ها سفر کرده بود و تکامل سهره‌ها را در آنجا شاهد بود، عمل کنند و موجب تکامل در حیوانات شهری بشوند.
اما مشکلی که وجود دارد، زمان است؛ به نظر می‌رسد که داروین پیشروی تکامل را در بازه‌ی زمانی بسیار طولانی‌ای مفروض داشته است. اما شلیتهویزن تلاش می‌کند تا با ارجاع به مطالعاتی که در زمان داروین انجام گرفته بود و نیز مطالعات اخیر در شهرها، این زمان طولانی را به چالش بکشد و نشان دهد که تکامل خیلی سریع تر از آنچه فکر می‌کنیم و در مقابل چشمان‌مان دارد رخ می‌دهد.

شیلتهویزن به واسطه‌ی چندین سال فعالیت در مجلات ترویجی و نیز برنامه‌های رادیویی و تلویزیونی، به خوبی با مخاطب عام و غیرمتخصص آشنایی دارد و در این کتاب هم تلاش می‌کند تا با زبانی ساده و روان، اما با بیانی علمی و مستدل و متکی بر شواهد، به خوبی موضوع مورد بحث و زمینه‌های و بررسی تاریخی را برای مخاطب شرح بدهد و در مسیری کاملاً حساب شده، او را به سمت نتیجه‌گیری‌اش سوق بدهد.
این کتاب برای اولین بار مطالعات اکولوژی شهری و داستان‌های زیبای پشت آن را از میان کتاب‌های آکادمیک و مقالات بیرون کشیده و آن را تبدیل به موضوعی برای مخاطبین عام می‌کند، و تلاش می‌کند تا به ساکنین این جزایرِ فولاد و سنگ بگوید که بیایید تا اندکی با دقت و جزئیات بیشتری به زیبایی و رمز و رازِ جهان طبیعی اطراف‌مان بنگریم.

پ ن: تشکر ویژه از تک تک دوستان و عزیزانی که با پیگیری اخبار انتشار کتاب، مایه دلگرمی و دلیلی برای شور و شوق من برای ادامه مسیر بودند.
Profile Image for Ian.
704 reviews65 followers
September 22, 2018
Popular science at its best here. Prof. Schilthuizen has a relaxed style of writing that is wonderfully easy to read. At the same time, he sets out some serious and thought-provoking stuff, about the astonishing power of natural selection and how it is driving evolution amongst urban wildlife.

The author comments early on that when humans talk about “nature” we almost invariably mean those much-reduced parts of the world where human influence is still small. He adds though, that by 2030 around 10% of the world’s land mass will be urbanised, and that more and more species are adapting to living in this environment. Many birds and animals we now take for granted as part of urban wildlife only started moving into cities in the 19th century or even in the last few decades, and the process is continuing right under our noses.

Each chapter in the book is almost like a standalone article, and each is as captivating as the others. There are some similarities with another book I recently read “Inheritors of the Earth”, although this book is a bit less polemical. I would wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who is interested in biology or evolution.

Profile Image for Numidica.
360 reviews8 followers
January 1, 2021
Having read the The Beak of the Finch, about scientists who spent thirty years in the Galapagos gathering data that demonstrated that evolution occurs over a very short time span given the right conditions, I am absolutely prepared to accept Menno Schilthuizen's premise that evolution is occurring rapidly in cities, driven by a variety of man-made factors, including different environments and the presence of exotic plants and animals. The evidence is clear that the urban environments of mankind are creating new species adapted to those new conditions. Where I part ways with the author is in his apparent enthusiasm for this human-driven adaptation. As a lifelong gardener and amateur botanist and ecologist, I have witnessed with my own eyes the havoc wrought by exotic plants and to a lesser degree non-native animals; I have seen the masses of pollinators drawn to native horsemint or butterfly weed (Asclepias) in my current home, while non-native plants attract a scant few by comparison. The number of bees swarming an American Linden or a Ti-Ti (Cyrilla racemiflora) is in dramatic contrast to the numbers of pollinators on a (non-native) gardenia or crepe myrtle.

The simple truth is that the introduction of exotic species is bad in almost every respect. While it may be interesting scientifically to see what happens in the petri dish of a city when these species are mixed together, in general we know the answer: biodiversity plummets and generalists like crows and seagulls are winners. By the way, I like crows; they are highly intelligent, social animals. But the basis of the natural world's resilience is biodiversity, and many biologists, including my favorite writer on the subject, E.O. Wilson, have demonstrated the need to preserve large, very large wild spaces to preserve that biodiversity. There are certainly cases where exotics are nearly seamlessly filling a niche once held by a now-missing species (coyotes in eastern North America replacing the missing wolves, or Argentinian Monk Parakeets replacing extinct Carolina Parakeets in New York and elsewhere), but usually the introduction of exotics is a tale of woe. Kudzu, fire ants, Asian pythons, and European boars in the American South; Nile Perch in Lake Victoria, Asian carp and Zebra Mussels in the Great Lakes, snapping turtles and grey squirrels in Europe; all these introductions are things we would un-do if we could. The list is nearly endless and all of these reduced biodiversity, and made the world poorer.

Where I found common ground with the author was near the end of his book where he described his sorrow and grief over the loss of his childhood meadows and marshes - the very places where he studied birds and other marsh denizens, where he learned to love nature and the natural world, which inspired him to study biology. I experienced this same loss; I cannot return to the wildernesses of my youth in Florida because they are simply gone, covered with subdivisions and streets. The longleaf pine forests where I watched pileated woodpeckers and raccoons, and the clear streams where I saw water moccasins hunting fish have given way to neighborhoods with monocultures of bermuda grass and non-native shrubbery. This has endowed me with a life-long dislike of boring suburbia and its trappings.

So I'm afraid Dr. Schilthuizen has, with me, come to the wrong shop to preach love of adaptation to urban environments. I understand that it's happening, but he cannot make me feel good about it.
Profile Image for Monica.
582 reviews611 followers
July 4, 2022
Animals, insects and plant life are adapting to the cities and urban environments. Enjoyable expanded magazine article. Pardon my cynicism but humans are destroying the planet. The fact that many species are adapting to the ravages of the environment are laudable, but not justification for continuing to destroy expand our (urban) environment. This book is basically a look at the biological changes of many species trying to adjust to their surroundings. Not the fault or intent of the author but it came across to me like "keep being callous, selfish, oblivious, disrespectful and destructive of the earth. Do what you like. The other life forms will adapt." Stories of birds who use traffic to crack walnuts, or birds that have changed their tones to be heard in a noisy city. Spiders that build their webs near the tops of lights to catch moths. Moths that have in response been able to resist their instincts that attract them to light because the city has so much light. A pack of coyotes that has made a den in a parking garage because mankind has encroached so much on their environment. Birds that no longer use the straightest path to their destination but now follow street grids. Unfortunately, this book had the opposite affect on me than intended. Mostly because I think mankind should be doing more adapting than we are. Alas the miracle of life. All in all, a very good read and intended to be positive. I think the mood I am in, all I saw was more selfishness and species adapting because mankind is so thoughtless, frivolous, callous and entitled. Sigh...

***On a different note, this book is may be better read than listened to as the book has illustrations and photographs.

4 Stars--it really is a good book

Listened to Audible. Chris Nayak did a good job of narration.
Profile Image for Yegane.
120 reviews160 followers
September 14, 2022

آلیس که هنوز داشت کمی نفس نفس می‌زد، گفت «خب، در کشور ما اگر برای مدتی طولانی و بسیار سریع بدوید، همانطور که ما هم همین کار را کردیم، معمولا به جای دیگری می رسید.»

ملکه گفت «چه کشور کندی! حالا که اینجایی، می‌بینی که هر چه قدر هم که بدوی، باز در همان جایی هستی که بودی. اگر بخواهی به جای دیگری بروی، باید حداقل دو برابر این چیزی که اینجا دویدی، بدوی!»

مثال‌های این تغییرات خیلی شگفت انگیزن، پرنده‌هایی که ته‌سیگارها رو به آشیانه‌‌هاشون می‌برن و از شر مایت‌های خون‌آشام راحت میشن، کلاغ‌هایی که برای شکستن گردوها، اون‌ها رو زیر لاستیک ماشین‌ها می‌فرستادن و مغز گردوی شکسته شده رو می‌خوردن، چرخ‌ریسک‌هایی که در بطری‌های شیر رو باز می‌کردن و از چربی روی شیر تغذیه میکردن، این‌ها تعداد کمی از مثال‌های این کتاب برای تغییراتیه که اگه بخوای ثابت بمونی هم لازمه تغییر کنی.

خوندن این کتاب اطلاعات جزئی از تکامل لازم داره و قرار نیست پایه و اساس تکامل رو توضیح بده پس بهتره قبل از خوندنش اطلاعات کلی (مثلا در حد کتاب درسی زیست شناسی دبیرستان) داشته باشید.

در واقع کتاب بیشتر از اینکه درباره‌ی تکامل حرف بزنه، نگاه جالب و عمیقی به محیط زیست اطرافمون و جاندارهایی که با ما زندگی می‌کنن داره و اگه به جانورشناسی و طبیعت ویا تکامل علاقه دارید احتمالا دوستش داشته باشید.

رسالت نویسنده طبقه گفته‌ی خودش، آگاه کردن مخاطب از فرآیندهای هیجان‌انگیز تکاملی که در شهرها در جریانن، برای حفظ و ارتقا زندگی شهریه که اعتقاد داره این آگاهی، حیاتیه و به نظر من تا حد نسبتا خوبی رسالتش رو انجام داده.
Profile Image for Nostalgia Reader.
790 reviews63 followers
March 27, 2018
4.5 stars.

It was after much debate that I put in a request for this book on NetGalley. The cover art is amazing and anything involving nature and evolution always sound interesting. But I was so convinced that this book would make me mad and try to convince me humans are some sort of savior to nature by building cities or some such radical view. The possibility of it being quite dense in subject matter was another doubt.

But that cover art kept calling me back. I got approved for a copy, and when I started reading it, all my doubts were happily crushed.

Urban evolution is something that has been occurring for centuries, but has recently become even more common thanks to ever expanding cities, increased population density, and the continuing new inventions of humans. Organisms of all walks of life are starting to adapt and evolve to be more comfortable and adept at living in cities. Some species are even starting to evolve so much that there starts to be an easily measurable difference between city and country species. Many city birds, for example, have differing calls and songs, plumage, nesting habits, and times of day when they’re most active. Many times these differences are the complete opposite of what’s needed to survive in the country (e.g. higher pitched songbirds do better in cities as their songs and calls can be heard over the city noise) and these birds have quickly started to evolve into city-adept subspecies. A variety of experiments has shown that some city smart species do not just learn to adapt to the city, but rather these city smarts become encoded in their DNA. As urban areas will only become more and more common, these adaptations help ensure that species will be able to continue to flourish in a new type of forest, this time made up of skyscrapers and traffic noise.

Schilthuizen writes in an extremely approachable manner, never descending into overly jargony descriptions, providing detailed summaries of many important studies and papers, and always providing the common name of a species, with the Latin name handily in parenthesis. Each chapter is well-rounded and the concepts build off of each other without feeling like a textbook. It was enjoyable to sit down and read at any time of day; I didn’t feel like I had to mentally prepare myself for a deep dive into masters level biology terminology.

This book did it’s job convincing me that urban evolution is vital for the continuation of species and nature as a whole. While there are so many species that will not be able to adapt to live in such a new environment, there are still many others that, due to tiny genetic quirks in a few individuals, will flourish in urban and developed settings. It’s a must for them if they want to survive in the ever-developing world. Of course, pristine nature settings must continued to be preserved and used as a basis for species study, but urban evolution and nature is creating an entirely new ballpark that many biologists tend to ignore in their studies, causing our view of many species to be, in a way, outdated.

The first chapter discusses myrmecophiles–animals who have evolved to live in or off of ant nests. They use a variety of tricks, like scent mimicry to rob the ants or playing dead to gain access to the inside. If we think of the ant hill as a city and the ants as humans, all the myrmecophiles are the birds, mice, flowers, and insects that have learned to exploit the cities’ resources and evolve so that they can survive in a more toxic, noisier, brighter, and busier environment than the open spaces they once knew.

It’s an enlightening read, one that makes me both sad, to know that so many species will never be able to evolve into city dwellers and that many species will only survive via their urban-evolved siblings, and a bit hopeful that those siblings will continue to help nature exist even in a continuingly anti-natural world.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy to review!

(Cross posted on my blog.)
Profile Image for Carlos.
588 reviews287 followers
May 3, 2020
4.5 stars for this one. As an anthropologist myself I always have a soft spot for books about evolution of species and studies into how urbanization is speeding the former. This book had both of my interest in it, therefore this book was an easy read for, the simplicity in which the book is written makes it easy for anyone to read and learn from this book. All in all this book is a study into how our interaction with different species are altering them while also posing a question....How is it altering us as a species?. Highly recommend this book to anyone with any interest in understanding our interdependence with nature.
Profile Image for Lisa.
598 reviews40 followers
December 22, 2018
This is a good popular science book that walks the fine line between being extremely accessible but not dumbing down the thesis or the science supporting it. Schilthuizen presents an interesting overview of urban evolution—how plants, insects, birds, and animals have adapted to manmade/urban environments—in an extremely digestible way that doesn't skirt the fact that this is serious business. The tone tends to default a little onto the side of breeziness, focusing on urban fauna and flora's successful adaptations to issues like noise, light, and chemical pollution and the compartmentalization of cities' green areas without digging into the more disastrous and deleterious effects. Then again, this is not that book, of which there are already many. This is, rather, an optimistic—but no less rigorous for that—look at the ways nature (both what we think of as "nature" and the kind touched by humans) prevails.

Schilthuizen's style is conversational and often very funny, keeping the array of information moving along: why mice in urban pocket parks have developed different DNA; moths whose wing colors changed to provide camouflage on the soot-covered tree trunks of industrial-age England; plants that filter heavy metals; the difference between rural and urban blackbirds, who do in fact sing in the dead of night (to avoid daytime city noises—and that's not the only sly Paul McCartney reference Schilthuizen works in); and the ultimate irony—how the post-Darwin transformation of the Galápagos capital of Santa Cruz into a tourist destination has resulted in enough urban homogenization to slowly reverse the differentiated effects on the bills of "Darwin's" finches, which are what led to its fame to begin with.

Lots to learn here, and it both goes down easily and sticks in the brain—the author presents his information well and usably. Recommended for anyone curious about the subject—and Schilthuizen loves him some citizen scientists, so the book may well achieve his goal of encouraging more folks with general interests to get involved in helping track urban evolution as it marches on.
Profile Image for Kam Yung Soh.
683 reviews33 followers
July 10, 2018
A fascinating and easy to read book about one area that tends to be ignore: the evolution of organisms in a new landscape that is rapidly growing in size around the world: cities and urban landscapes. In numerous chapters organised by sections, the author shows what organisms are taking advantage of the new urban ecological niches opened up by human cities, what evolution has been doing to adapt organisms to an urban life and what might be in store for the future.

The first section gives an overview of the urban jungle. The author traces the history of urban ecology and looks at various cities and some of the animals and plants that inhabit them. He shows how species that are generalist and have been preadapted to live in a natural environment that resembles the environment in cities are the ones that are most successful at making a living in an urban setting.

The second section examines whether evolution by natural selection can operate in such relatively short spans of time and the answer is yes. Using various examples, like the classic moth study (later verified to be correct) showing that the moths adapted their colours to match sooty surroundings, grass that produce heavier seeds (to stay on nearby soil patches in pavements) and possibly birds that grew shorter wings (to be better at escaping cars and prey), the author shows that evolution can indeed work on timescales of centuries or decades, contrary to what Darwin believed when he first proposed evolution by natural selection. However, further studies are needed to determine whether the evolutionary changes are really due to changes in the genes of the organism or due to gene expression being enhanced or reduced.

The third section looks at the various ways evolution might be acting on organisms. One is the organism adapting to the environment, for example finding new ways to get food by, for example, learning to open bottle caps to get to the cream from milk bottles, or by leaving walnuts on streets to be cracked open by car wheels. Other organisms are engaged in a "red queen's race", constantly adapting to one another in the battle between predator and prey, now played out differently in an urban environment. Finally, the environment itself can modify the sexual preferences of organisms by, for example, forcing song birds to change their songs so they can be heard over traffic, or by altering their behaviour to be more or less anxious around humans, vehicles or buildings in urban environments.

The last section looks where we go from here. The evolution of organisms in an urban environment poses major challenges to the organisms themselves, not just from the environment and other organisms but from humans themselves. The urban landscape is very different from the 'natural' landscape and drives evolution in different ways. The rapid introduction of 'alien' species from other cities (which tends to make the mixture of organisms in cities resemble each other more than the nearby surrounding countryside) poses new challenges. Documenting this change (with the help of amateur naturalists and observers) is required so that we know where things stand now and could help predict how urban evolution may change in the future.
Profile Image for Jo.
643 reviews62 followers
December 19, 2021
Menno Schilthuizen's writing is clear and easy to read and there was so much fascinating information in this book. Focusing on HIREC or Human-Induced Rapid Evolution Change in the context of our urban environment he discusses numerous studies that highlight this process. I was already aware of the studies on Peppered Moths in the north of Britain but very little else. The way that the same species of mosquito or mouse can evolve entirely different traits because of the very specific and usually very small areas they inhabit, the crows that have learnt to drop walnuts under slow moving cars in Japan to crack them and other birds putting cigarette butts into their nests to deter pests were just a few of the examples.

The ingenuity of living things is amazing but there are also some funny stories of beetles attempting to have sex with brown beer bottles that look like their female counterparts and sad stories of hedgehogs getting their heads stuck in Mcflurry containers (with accompanying photo). For a non scientist like myself though, I found myself stuck in the middle of the book when he discussed epigenetics in more detail -phenotype changes that don't involve DNA alterations and plasticity -the latter referring to whether behavior is simply learned or a genetic trait -if I understand it rightly.

I also found that some of the chapters had so many studies in them that they began to blur into each other. It must be difficult when you have done as much research as Menno Schilthuizen clearly has, not to cite as many studies as you can but sometimes it got a bit too much for me.

There was some interesting discussion of greening our urban buildings as a way of supporting the creatures that have made the cities their home as well as the importance of community science and projects that have provided a wealth of information to the scientific community. As I said, a book filled with so much interesting information but simply on occasion a little too dry for this reader.

Profile Image for Melissa.
2,252 reviews144 followers
April 3, 2018
A surprisingly fun - and chatty - book of urban biodiversity and evolution. As the world changes, and more and more people migrate around the world and into cities, there will be more “rural” species that more into the city and become “urban” species. At the this point we also can’t get away from the reality that humans have contributed to these changes as we have helped transport species from their native niches all over the globe. Very interesting.
Profile Image for Leonie.
150 reviews1 follower
November 27, 2022
Uitermate fascinerend boek, en ook nog erg leesbaar. Ik heb er veel van geleerd (dat onze Europese spreeuwen in de VS zitten komt eigenlijk door Shakespeare!) en er stonden mooie zinnen in ("Het urbane weefgetouw weeft voedselwebben van schering en inslag die door het toeval worden bepaald, en waarbij soorten worden samengevoegd in een nieuw en verrassend patroon."). Aanrader!
Profile Image for Igor.
103 reviews12 followers
June 27, 2021
Невелика книга про те, як рослини і тварини пристосовуються до життя поруч з людьми і як це доволі швидко веде до змін навіть на генетичному рівні. Багато цікавих історій, але найбільше мене вразили соми, які у французьких містечках навчились полювати на голубів, що приходять до річки напитись води.
Profile Image for Tom Roth.
88 reviews
July 22, 2018
This was a very good and interesting read. Chapters are not too long, and it is very well written. I think it is very accessible to people who do not have a background in biology. However, even for biologists it is very interesting, mainly because it concerns quite a new field in evolutionary biology. The book contains many famous examples of human influence on animal evolution and behavior, such as color change in peppered moths and milk bottle opening by great tits.
For me, the most interesting chapter was the chapter about adaptation to urbanization by common blackbirds. It describes changes in personality, disappearance of the urge to migrate, and changes in singing behavior. As Schilthuizen says, common blackbirds living in urban environments could be considered a new species of blackbird, Turdus urbanicus.
This book is a must-read for everybody interested in evolutionary biology, especially because urbanization seems to result in very quick evolutionary change.
Profile Image for Leftbanker.
781 reviews289 followers
November 22, 2019
This book was such a blast! With my crap memory, I won’t remember anything in this one year from today, but I’m more of a “big picture” guy. This means that the ideas he presents will stay with me and help to shape my understanding of the world.

I’ll never be able to look at another city creature in the same way as I wonder how our man-made geography is changing how they behave. I read somewhere (not in this book) of how it takes somewhere around 25,000 years for changes in human behavior to make their way into our DNA, yet the science in this little book demonstrates how quickly we adapt to the external world. He explains than adaptation and evolution are different things, but generally the former can lead to the latter.
75 reviews
September 4, 2021
Ο συγγραφέας προσφέρει μια επιστημονικά εμπεριστατωμένη, δημιουργική οπτική του αστικού περιβάλλοντος υπό το πρίσμα της εξέλιξης..Αν θέλεις να νιώσεις και να βρεις ομορφιά στην πόλη τότε πρέπει να διαβάσεις αυτό το βιβλίο.
Profile Image for Rossdavidh.
507 reviews141 followers
July 5, 2019
There is "nature", and there is the city. It is the largely unstated presumption, in most discussion of biology and ecology, that the two are separate, and so all of the territory which is subsumed by the latter, is lost to the former. This is, of course, not really true; lots of life passes back and forth between the city and the countryside, even the parts of the countryside with no humans living in it, and therefore the city is very much part of nature. But, a gut level aversion to how urbanization has chewed up ecosystem after ecosystem has left most biologists with a reluctance to spend a lot of attention to how the urban ecosystem works. Not so, Menno Schilthuizen. Coming from northern Europe, one of the places where urbanization has reached even higher levels than for the planet as a whole, he has begun to give serious thought (and some serious research) to how biology in the city works, and how it evolves.

There are, as is well known and frequently discussed, many plant and animal species that cannot live in a human city, and they are beleaguered. What is not as often discussed, are those species that thrive in it. Raccoons, rats, pigeons, corvids of all kinds, coyotes, and many other animals have found the abundance of food scraps (and occasionally small dogs and cats) that humans leave out undefended, to be a cornucopia of tasty and relatively nutritious morsels, free of most big predators. A greater number of plants have spread from city to city around the world, springing up between pavement stones, on piles of trash, and in the leaf litter you failed to remove from your house's gutters. Insects live on and in your trash, and especially ants carry on in their indefatigable ant ways, right across and through human habitations.

It is well known that humanity is, directly or indirectly, responsible for many species going extinct. Schilthuizen examines the controversial claim that we may also be, without realizing it, splitting many species into two, as the country- and city-versions acquire distinct ways of feeding, mating, raising their young, and even acquire different patterns of global distribution (for example, what cannot live in the cold of a northern countryside, may be able to live in the heat-island of the city). Insects that learn to be a bit less attracted to the light. Birds whose wing shapes start to evolve to be better adapted at a quick launch to get out of the way of oncoming car traffic. Raccoons and coyotes that become more social, the better to crowd around the dumpster.

One of the lost pastimes of the 19th and previous centuries, is the observation of animals and plants in their natural environment, as more and more of us live in places without a lot of "nature" that is handy to observe. What Schilthuizen wants us to notice, is that there are also plants and animals right where we live, and it is worth noticing them. How do they behave? What do they hunt, and what hunts them? How does this change through the course of the year? But, as with nearly any topic, it helps us to observe, if we have someone to give us a jumpstart, by pointing out to us much of what they have seen. Some will find this distasteful, thinking that the proper attitude to have towards urban plants and animals is only to bemoan the priceless diversity that they (and we) pushed out. Which, no doubt, they did. But if our choices (for the moment at least) are to either notice the plants and animals around us, especially the ones we didn't put there that showed up anyway, or else to not notice them, it seems worthwhile to see what is there, and appreciate it for what it is. Schilthuizen is here to tell you a little bit of what you're looking at, and how it works.
Profile Image for Camelia Rose.
634 reviews84 followers
October 4, 2020
Menno Schilthuizen is an optimist and pragmatist regarding the ongoing human vs nature (other species). If you skip the first and last chapter, and if you desperately want to believe humans are not the worst enemies of nature, you probably will feel happier after reading this book. I can understand the author's worry that rightwing anti-intellectuals or climate-change-deniers may misinterpret his book.

Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution is about the evolution brought on by humans, especially in cities. The author clarifies in the first chapter that the purpose of the book is not against nature conservation. He believes we should conserve as much wilderness as possible. However, he also thinks outside the pristine wilderness areas, traditional conversation practices--eradicating exotic species, vilifying weeds and pests--may in fact destroying echo systems that may sustain humankind in the future. He then argues for embracing and harnessing the evolution forces shaping novel ecosystems in the urban areas, and allowing nature to grow in the heart of cities.

In each chapter, the author gives an example of evolutions triggered or sped up by humans-- English peppered moth evolution, parakeet colonies in major European cities, birds changing their songs in cities, dandelion on the city pavement producing heavier seeds than those in the meadows, to name a few. Are crows pests or just smart birds filling up the new evolution niche created by humans? City blackbirds stop migration and could soon become a different species than their countryside cousins.

"Natural selection here is so strong that urban life forms evolute rapidly, but we must also remember all the examples of urban evolution in this book form a biased samples of those life forms that are pre-adapted variables or simply lucky enough to evolve and survive. For each successful urban species, there are dozens of other species could not adapt to city life and disappeared."

To my understanding, the author attempts to draw up a second-best scenario, where humans coexist with other species "peacefully".

Nature survive despite of us, not because of us.
Profile Image for Mo.
156 reviews
February 21, 2019
Hmm oke, ik had meer van dit boek verwacht.
Leuk onderwerp en erg interessante voorbeelden, maar op een gegeven moment blijft het dan bij een opsomming en wordt het verhaal niet naar een hoger level gebracht. Ik zou zelf ook niet weten hoe ik structuur moet geven aan zo'n non-fictie boek waarin je vooral leuk wilt vertellen over hoe dingen in de natuur voorkomen, maar ik ben dan ook niet de schrijver dus dat is niet mijn verantwoordelijkheid. Dit werkte gewoon niet helemaal. Er werd wel geprobeerd verschillende onderwerpen achter elkaar aan bod te laten komen maar uiteindelijk begon het dan elke keer met een zwakke inleiding over dat de schrijver ergens liep en iets tegenkwam en dan een heleboel voorbeelden en onderzoeken erachteraan opgesomd. Daar kwam bij dat ik veel klassieke voorbeelden ook al kende en weinig ben verrast (denk aan de darwinvinken, berkenspanners en vogelnesten van afval). Het jammere vond ik ook dat elke keer als het een beetje de diepte in ging, bijvoorbeeld over dna of epigenetica, dat het dan wel heel erg simpel bleef met metaforen uit het dagelijks leven of stomme zinnen net alsof het voor kinderen geschreven is, zoals 'dna is opgerold in pakketjes' enzovoorts. Maar misschien is dat dan het 'populaire' aspect van het populair-wetenschappelijke en vond ik de balans daartussen niet helemaal in het midden liggen.

Tot slot vond ik het zonde dat de mening van de schrijver in dit alles niet erg naar voren kwam, want als dat wel zo was, zoals aan het einde, was dat zeker interessant. Het ging er dan over dat hij vond dat mensen een soort platform moeten hebben waarop evolutie van dieren en planten in de gaten kan worden gehouden. Zo zouden ze bijvoorbeeld foto's insturen van slakken en kan door de jaren heen worden gekeken of de gemiddelde kleur verandert. Een cool idee, Schilthuizen noemt dit zelf 'EvoScope'.
Wat ik daarbij fascinerend vond was hoe de menselijke evolutie door de stad kan worden gevormd, bijvoorbeeld dat een anti-tuberculosegen in de stad meer voorkomt en seksuele selectie intenser is door meer competitie.

Conclusie: weinig structuur, en het is op zoek gaan naar de pareltjes in het boek. Maar wel degelijk een mooi onderwerp dat me nieuwsgierig maakt naar meer :)
Profile Image for Danilo Weiner.
175 reviews2 followers
September 9, 2021
Livro didático que reforça o poder da teoria da evolução, ao mesmo tempo que especula se alguns hábitos de animais que vivem em ambientes urbanos são frutos de um processo evolutivo mais rápido e, portanto, contradizem o darwinismo (que coloca como um processo de anos / séculos) ou se são apenas fruto da capacidade desses animais de imitarem comportamento de seus pares e se adequarem a sua nova realidade.

Com exemplos super interesantes de biólogos e estudiosos de países e regiões diferentes, o livro segue compartilhando histórias e, por vezes, entra numa parte mais técnica sobre análise do DNA desses animais para trazer algumas respostas às especulações iniciais.

Por fim, o autor - um claro otimista - crê que com o poder colaborativo de pessoas comuns e novas tecnologias de captação de imagens, sons e até de velocidade de distribuição, muitas dessas dúvidas - e outras novas - podem ser sanadas em breve.

Sorte dos evolucionistas e azar dos, negacionistas criacionistas...
Profile Image for Sam Hanekom .
92 reviews6 followers
April 8, 2018
In a world constantly changing to meet the ever-increasing needs of humanity, it is simple to say that today’s cities and urban centres would be unrecognizable and impossible to imagine in years gone past. Indeed, there is a constant, low-thrumming hum throughout social media, news sites, and conversations about how humanity is literally changing the face of the planet, and whether this is to the detriment of the thousands of other species with which we share our homes. Opinions are divided, many will say that humanity is the earth’s single largest pest, that we are ruining nature and using up resources and committing ourselves to a bleak, green-less future. Yet, it seems that Menno Schilthuizen is voicing a somewhat unpopular yet unarguable fact – humans are actually part of nature, and it’s time we stop seeing ourselves as a separate entity, an enemy of the world and the ‘nature’ it encompasses.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer that we are sowing seeds of destruction and endangering our own and our peers’ future. Yet, I was always of the fleeting opinion (even more solidified after reading Darwin Comes to Town) that we are not the terminator to nature’s Sarah Connor. In fact, nature as we understand it – as a separate entity to humanity – will evolve to grow with us, and I’ve no doubt it will survive us.

Menno Schilthuizen is what I consider to be a humanist biologist, and he’s got some interesting and profound observations to share.

The book’s core message is the visibility and impact of HIREC (Human-Induced Rapid Evolution) globally – how insects, animals and plants are evolving in spite of humans to stay suited to their ever-changing habitats. Quite simply, he argues that with the constant evolution, spread and growth of populations (both human and not), each urban species of life will encounter a similar set of urban cohabitants. Nature, to who we credit decay and oblivion by our hands, is a stronger entity than that. It is the counterpart to human change, occurring within and throughout our buildings, systems, and pollution. As we make changes to the environment, so, too, does the environment change itself.

To go into more detail would rob you the thrill of reading this book – and indeed, it is a thrill. Schilthuizen is witty, funny, bright, and easy to understand. His observations and findings are so beautifully and interestingly presented that you can’t help but reflect on and admire his content. In addition, he gives us a spark of hope, in that the creatures we share this globe with are not passively awaiting a fate at the dirty hands of humans; they exhibit strength and cunning beyond that, and it is glorious. Humans are undoubtedly causing uproar in the environment, and leading to enormous upset, but it’s not the end of the world; we don’t hold that much power.

Darwin Comes to Town by Menno Schilthuizen is published by Quercus Books, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.
Profile Image for Udit Nair.
309 reviews59 followers
November 23, 2019
Charles Darwin gave us insights into the incredible phenomenon of natural selection. Although Charles Darwin said that the evolution is extremely slow process and it's hard to witness it in a lifespan. Well for once Darwin is not right and this book is all about the wonders of Human Induced Rapid Evolutionary change. After reading this book one would be able to see through the life or more appropriately the ecology of urban centers in a more special, more interesting way and ofcourse worthy of more than a casual glance. The author has passionately made an argument about the fact that humans are integral part of ever changing world. Urban ecosystems are very much the place where real ecology and real evolution go on contrary to popular notions. As a whole it's a great read with well documented examples and anecdotes.
Profile Image for Elentarri.
1,449 reviews6 followers
September 21, 2020
Schilthuizen takes a look at how the urban environment influences the evolution of animals and plants. He shows that evolution can happen rather quickly, within a few generations, rather than over thousands of years. He also shows that humans are a part of the environment and not separate from it. Each chapter is fairly short with numerous fascinating examples, making this a quick and interesting reading experience.

Also recommended: Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction
by Chris D. Thomas
Inheritors of the Earth How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction by Chris D. Thomas
Profile Image for Radiantflux.
427 reviews404 followers
December 15, 2018
112th book for 2018.

It's in the age of the Anthropocene urban spaces will become the major drivers of evolution.

A very accessible book detail the remarkable ways that cities are now influencing the evolution of creatures great and small. Did you know for instance there are three (3!) species of mosquito that have evolved to live in the London Underground? Or that the European Blackbird has over the last couple of hundred years has made significant steps towards evolving into a separate species from it's wooded cousin?


6 reviews1 follower
May 16, 2018
Very interesting and very readable book about how plants and animals adapt and evolve in response to living in an urban environment. Lots of great specific examples involving lizards, moths, birds, mice and more. Definitely learned a lot reading this. Highly recommended if you enjoy books about nature.
Profile Image for Fons.
3 reviews
February 21, 2020
Eén van de beste non-fictieboeken die ik ooit gelezen heb: vlot, inhoudelijk vernieuwend, illustratief met veel voorbeelden en soms ook gewoon grappig. Het belangrijkste naast de toffe weetjes is dat mijn mindset tegenover de stedelijke natuur nooit meer dezelfde zal zijn. "Eyeopener" is bij dit boek helemaal op zijn plaats.
Profile Image for Atamas Natalia.
38 reviews4 followers
August 29, 2021
У професійному середовищі біологів, що займаються вивченням та охороною біорізноманіття, зокрема у містах, ця книга викликала дуже неоднозначну реакцію. Серед них панує основний модус операнді - відчайдушно робити все, аби зберігати найвищий рівнь біорізноманіття, що постійно та катастрофічно падає, та запобігати зникненню видів та збідненню міської біоти. Наскрізна ідея ж цієї книги інша: у містах з бі��тою відбуваються певні еволюційні процеси, і втручатися у них чи намагатися якось запобігти "природньому ходу речей" - у тому числі і супутньому збідненню та ізоляції міської фауни - не має сенсу і навіть шкідливо.

Це доволі революційно, так, і викликає спротив. Особливо для мене доволі сумнівною виглядає думка про непотрібність у містах "зелених коридорів", через яких ізольовані ділянки з певним рівнем різноманяття - парки, кладовища, сквери, - мають поєднуватись один з одним, аби тварини могли вільно переміщуватись. Автор вважає, що такі коридори заважатимуть еволюційному процесу, що відбувається з певними комахами, рослинами та ссавцями на зелених "острівках".

Але якщо відірватися від суто професійної полеміки, то це дуже цікава та дружня для пересічного читача книга, яка просто та доступно розповість про те, як міста змінюють різні організми, як пристосовуються до них рослини, комахи, птахи. Тут зібрано та описано маса цікавих історій та кейсів, від впливу цілодобового освітлення на комах до змін у вокалізації птахів та амфібій під впливом шумового забруднення. Дуже пізнавальний окремий невеличкий розділ про сучасні тренди у "зеленій урбаністиці", але практично нічого нема про те, як саме вони впливає на міську біоту.

У автора чудовий стиль, книжка читається швидко та легко, загалом потужно рекомендую.
Profile Image for Octavia Cade.
Author 83 books103 followers
November 1, 2022
Very interesting book about evolution taking place in cities. One of the opening examples was particularly effective - mosquitoes in the London Underground, effectively cut off from different populations on different lines, evolving differently from each other.

This could be quite a difficult topic, but the book's very much popular science, directed at a lay audience, which is appealing. I've read a number of popular science books that are far less accessible, so it's a success there. A couple of things help it along, I think. First, the chapters are all relatively short. Almost bite-sized, averaging 10-15 pages each, so it's easy to get through. Secondly, a lot of this is concerned with sharing the details of practical experiments. There's not a lot of theory here. There are a lot of clearly explained examples, such as the above-mentioned mosquitoes, and I've always found practical examples an extremely effective way of getting ideas across. Admittedly, those examples tend towards insects, and to a lesser degree birds - animals with relatively short generations, so that the ability to assess genetic change over time is something that can be demonstrably measured.

I'm not as certain as Schilthuizen as to his conclusions about the value of introduced species, though. I think he's right when he says that urban environments are increasingly sharing organisms across the world, but remembering the Tallamy book I read some time back, Bringing Nature Home, where introduced species are very clearly shown to have a deleterious effect on endemic biodiversity, well. The homogenisation that Schilthuizen describes may have somewhat less value in that context.
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