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We are marching towards a future in which three-quarters of humans live in cities, and a large portion of the planet's landmass is urbanized. With much of the rest covered by human-shaped farms, pasture, and plantations, where can nature still go? To the cities – is Menno Schilthuizen's answer in this remarkable book. And with more and more wildlife carving out new niches among humans, evolution takes a surprising turn. Urban animals evolve to become more cheeky and resourceful, city pigeons develop detox-plumage, and weeds growing from cracks in the pavement get a new type of seeds. City blackbirds are even on their way of becoming an entirely new species, which we could name Turdus urbanicus.
Thanks to evolutionary adaptation taking place at unprecedented speeds, plants and animals are coming up with new ways of living in the seemingly hostile environments of asphalt and steel that we humans have created. We are on the verge of a new chapter in the history of life, Schilthuizen says – a chapter in which much old biodiversity is, sadly, disappearing, but also one in which a new and exciting set of life forms is being born.
Menno Schilthuizen shows us that evolution in cities can happen far more rapidly, and strangely, than Darwin had dared dream.
Menno Schilthuizen is a Dutch evolutionary biologist, ecologist, and permanent research scientist at Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden and a professor in character evolution and biodiversity at Leiden University, The Netherlands. He has published numerous articles about evolution and ecology and three popular science books.
" [...] My eyes and ears have been opened to the emerging science of urban ecology by Menno Schilthuizen, professor of evolutionary biology at Leiden University. Darwin Comes to Town is a brilliant reproach to all the biologists who believe that their true calling is to study the "vanishing quantity of unspoilt nature" – the dwindling areas of forest and wilderness little touched by human activity – and who neglect the more exciting evolutionary change taking place in the towns and cities where most of them live. [...] Having been attacked in the past by colleagues who have misrepresented him as an apologist for unrestrained development, Schilthuizen makes clear that he is a passionate defender of wild and open spaces. [...] But he insists that, given the rapid pace of urbanisation worldwide, biologists should make more effort to study the way some plants and animals adapt to living within dense human populations. Their findings will help planners and developers to design cities that can sustain as much wildlife as possible. [...] No one really knows why some species are, as Schilthuizen says it, “pre-adapted” to take advantage of an urban niche through rapid evolution [...] Answers may emerge as the efforts of enthusiastic pioneers such as Schilthuizen drive forward research in urban ecology. [...]"
– Clive Cookson, Financial Times