In a conversational style as appealing as it is informative, Schilthuizen (Nature’s Nether Regions), an evolutionary biologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, explores myriad ways in which plants and animals have adapted to modern urban environments. Given the dramatic increase in urbanization that’s currently underway—“by 2030, almost 10 percent of all people on earth will live in only 41 megacities”—Schilthuizen is both realistic and optimistic in calling these environments “an exciting, novel ecological phenomenon.” Schilthuizen’s examples are fascinating, from changes in the immune systems of bobcats living in Hollywood, Calif., to the catfish in Albi, France, that have learned to leap out of the water, grab pigeons frolicking on the beach, and drag them beneath the surface to be eaten “in a few large gulps.” The changes scientists have observed, coupled with habitat fragmentation, “may be enough to start the splitting of the gene pools, and incipient urban speciation.” Schilthuizen is careful throughout to distinguish between true evolutionary changes and learned behaviors passed between individuals. He also does a superb job of introducing important ecological principles along the way, leaving readers with a fascinating question: “Can we harness the power of urban evolution to use it to make more livable cities for the future?” (Apr.)
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