Adaptive evolution in cities: progress and misconceptions

Max R Lambert, Kristien I Brans, Simone Des Roches, Colin M Donihue, Sarah E Diamond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


Current narratives suggest that urban adaptation – the adaptive evolution of organisms to cities – is pervasive across taxa and cities. However, in reviewing hundreds of studies, we find only six comprehensive examples of species adaptively evolving to urbanization. We discuss the utility and shortcomings of methods for studying urban adaptation. We then review diverse systems offering preliminary evidence for urban adaptation and outline a research program for advancing its study. Urban environments constitute diverse, interacting selective agents that test the limits of adaptation. Understanding urban adaptation therefore offers unique opportunities for addressing fundamental questions in evolutionary biology and for better conserving biodiversity in cities. However, capitalizing on these opportunities requires appropriate research methods and dissemination of accurate narratives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-257
Number of pages19
JournalTrends in Ecology Evolution
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank C. Schell, A. Kamath, and J. Stroud for urban adaptation conversations, and M. Bradford and D. Maynard for discussions about fungal adaptation. We thank the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Urban Eco-Evo Network for discussions about adaptive evolution in cities. M.R.L. was supported by a David H. Smith Fellowship , K.I.B. by a Research Foundation Flanders grant (FWO 1222120N ), S.D. by an NSF RCN grant ( DEB-1840663 ), and S.E.D. by an NSF CAREER grant ( DEB-1845126 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd

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