Cities are not the traditional domain of an evolutionary ecologist. Many of us have spent our lives trying to find wild, untouched places to study nature, such as the Galapagos Islands, Algonquin Park, new and old world rain forests, or the arctic tundra. Indeed, our lab has and continues to work in many of these areas. But we have also come to see the amazing opportunity cities present for answering basic and applied problems in the natural and social sciences.
From one perspective, cities are the most highly replicated and largest scale unplanned experimental evolution project of all time – there are literally 1000s of cities throughout the world. If you want to study how founder events, population bottlenecks, gene flow and changes in natural selection affect genomic and phenotypic evolution – cities are an ideal real-life laboratory. And, they are in our own backyards!
From another perspective, cities are the single most important drivers of local and global environmental change which defines the Anthropocene. With 54% of the Earth’s human population now living in cities, and an increasing rate of global urbanization, understanding urban evolutionary ecology is at the core of many challenges now facing conservation of species and habitats, sustainability of cities and human health.
For these reasons, an increasing amount of work in our lab focuses on urban evolutionary ecology. This work seeks to understand how cities, towns and villages drive adaptive and non-adaptive evolution at genetic, genomic and phenotypic levels. We are also interested in how this evolution may feedback to affect the ecology of populations, communities, ecosystems and human health, which has been called eco-evolutionary dynamics. Our models for this work are common plants such white clover (Trifolium repens), spotted touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis) and common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), but we are rapidly expanding the scope of this work, both spatially and in terms of the organisms we work on.
If you would like to work on urban evolutionary ecology, please contact Marc.