Mice in New York City are Evolving

Written by Stephen Messenger

Maybe Charles Darwin didn’t have to sail all the way to the Galapagos islands after all.

While evolution is often thought of as playing out in the wilds of the natural world, as it turns out, urban environments are a major hotbed for species adaptations. Over centuries of development, cities have rewritten the rules of survival for the organisms that live there — and researcher is beginning to prove that some critters are just learning to cope, they’re actually undergoing genetic change.

Baruch College scientist Jason Munshi-South has spent the last several years studying this phenomena of urban evolution in New York City — particularly when it comes to the white-footed mouse.

A population of these small rodents has lived in the city’s few remaining forested areas, isolated from their countryside counterparts in more rural parts of the state. Munshi-South had a hunch that the naturally selecting factors for the city mice might have spurred genetic changes over time that made them distinct from the others. So, he collected DNA from both city and rural mice in hopes of spotting any differences:

Here’s a rundown on the findings, from the National Geographic:

They found a handful of genes in the city mice that appear to have evolved due to natural selection. The functions of these genes are, in many cases, exactly the sort that you’d expect to evolve in a city mouse. Some of them are known to be involved in recognizing pathogens, and others help launch an immune system attack against them. Others help to detoxify pollutants. These genes not only evolved relatively quickly–in just the past couple centuries at most–but also repeatedly. In park after park, the same adaptations were favored by natural selection.

There’s no doubt that life is resilient to change, but the rate of human urbanization can at times seem too rapid and too unnatural for other organisms to keep pace. But as Munshi-South’s proves that the urban jungle and the jungle jungle really aren’t so different in terms of evolution.

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.

 

Photo: sharpshoota/flickr

124 comments

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Lea Humphrey
Lea Humphrey3 years ago

fascinating...

David V.
David V.3 years ago

theyare adapting.

Robert Tedders
Robert T.3 years ago

Weird but cool!! I just hope it doesn't create some sort of "mice flu" pandemic in years to come.

CHRISTINANICKI G.
.3 years ago

interesting article,thank you for sharing

Edgar Zuim
Edgar Zuim3 years ago

Interesting. Everything in nature tends to evolve, including man.

Great White Earth BeingsR
'Great White' 3 years ago

Mandy H.,

Great Post!

Mandy H.
Mandy H.3 years ago

I'm confused as to why this idea is so new to people.
"...urban environments are a major hotbed for species adaptations..." well of course! A city like the ones that we've got are part of evolution, look back at the Ancient Greek and Roman cities, the look at the Renaissance and their cities we're following a normal course of evolution and animals will follow just as they've done in the past.
An adaption isn't just a simple change in behavior to survive it goes right down to the biological factors. Animals will get to the point where they change colour or shed their fur sooner ect, that's how these things work.

David R.
David R.3 years ago

"While evolution is often thought of as playing out in the wilds of the natural world...."

No. Evolution is known to be happening in all life forms everywhere, all the time.

Claudia Acosta
Claudia Acosta3 years ago

Thank you.