Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Scientists study evolution in New York City

“Evolution is one of life’s constants. New species emerge; old ones become extinct. Environmental changes have often steered evolution in new directions. And modern cities like New York have brought particularly swift changes to the environment.”

And so, according to this fascinating article in the New York Times, scientists have begun studying evolution in some of the most unlikely of places, including the medians that divide traffic lanes on busy streets.

Like studying evolution anywhere, the work isn’t always easy. However, the complications in an urban setting tend to be somewhat different than in, say, the Amazon rainforests: “We get police called on us a lot,” said Dr. Munshi-South, an assistant professor at Baruch College. “Sometimes with guns drawn.”

Some of the equipment they use gets mistaken for drug paraphernalia, too.

“…Urban evolution is attracting more research these days, because cities are fast-growing, and the urban environment is quickly taking over large areas of the Earth’s surface.”

The issue of invasive species is another constant in evolutionary studies. This article offers an unusual perspective: “As the invaders adapted to New York, they put extra pressure on native species, competing with them for space and food. In the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, for instance, American bittersweet vines are dwindling away, outcompeted by Oriental bittersweet. At the same time, the two species are interbreeding, producing hybrids. “It’s a double-whammy,” said James D. Lewis, a plant ecologist at Fordham University.”

Check it out: Evolution Right Under Our Noses.

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