A Roadmap for Evolutionary Ecology, Evolutionary Applications Perspective Article

Last summer, a group of scientists researching different aspects of urban ecology and evolution got together at the University of Toronto Mississauga to discuss trends in this young field in a symposium aptly titled, “Synthesis in the City” organized by Marc Johnson. We (pictured above, including several contributors to this site) spent two days sharing our research and talking about what we see as the future of urban evolutionary study. This culminated in a manuscript led by Ruth Rivkin (U. Toronto) in which we laid out our ideas.

Ruth tells us more about this manuscript in this guest post:

Today’s world is one of unprecedented environmental change. Cities, one of the leading causes of such change, are the fastest growing ecosystems on Earth. Over half of all humans now live in urban habitats, making understanding how cities influence the ecology and evolution of species of central importance. Urban ecology has demonstrated that environmental changes such as habitat loss, pollution, and increased temperatures, affect species’ population ecology, community structure, and ecosystem processes. However, much less is known about how the ecological effects of urbanization affect the evolution of populations of organisms living in cities, and how evolutionary change in response to urbanization feeds back to influence these ecological processes, a phenomenon we call urban evolutionary ecology. Overall, we hope to facilitate our ability to address fundamental and applied problems in the ecology and evolution of species living in urban areas

Fig. 2 from Rivkin et al: many species have been shown to adapt to cities.

In our Perspective article, we provide a roadmap of urban evolutionary ecology. We begin by recounting a brief history of the field of urban ecology and the development of urban evolution. We follow by synthesizing current research in urban evolutionary ecology and identifying six important, yet unresolved questions that need to be addressed. These questions are: (1) Under what conditions does urbanization affect non-adaptive evolutionary processes? (2) How does urbanization affect natural selection? (3) How common are convergent evolutionary responses to urbanization across different species, traits, and genes? (4) How does environmental heterogeneity within and among urban landscapes influence evolution? (5) To what extent is a species’ abundance in cities the result of ancestral characteristics, recent adaptation, or phenotypic plasticity? And, (6) can urbanization increase diversification, leading to the evolution of novel traits and the origin of species? We conclude our Perspective piece by considering the application of urban evolutionary ecology to urban planning and design, conservation, pest management, and opportunities for advancing education and public engagement.


Studies in urban evolutionary ecology offer opportunities to engage the public. The level of engagement can range from passive learning (a), to the donation of private lands for experiments (b), to active community participation in data collection (c). Passive learning (a) is using QR codes linking to the project website. Use of private land (b) is using yard space to conduct experiments. Community science (c) recruits the public to collect spatially extensive data.

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