Evolution allows species to adapt to their surroundings, so that the species can fulfill a niche and live to procreate and continue. Those species that didn’t evolve quickly enough and were unable to change their localized living spaces are either no longer with us, or risk joining the list of endangered species and then, perhaps eventual extinction. Let’s discuss how humans are modifying not only our own surroundings but the environment we share with other species and how that impacts their adaptations and evolutionary process.
There was an interesting article in Science News online lately titled; “Roads are driving rapid evolutionary change in our surroundings – Study explains why road ecology matters,” published on February 17, 2017 about a study from Dartmouth College which stated: “Roads are causing rapid evolutionary change in wild populations of plants and animals according to a new paper. The study looks at the evolutionary changes which are being brought on by the way streets slice and dice our plane.”
But, for this list I want to add street noise, interfering in the hunting and evading process of character, and urban heat island effect. Also, hunting by humans, easier access to animals that hangout near roads for road kill, warmth, or water runoff – and poisoning by individuals who put toxins out to prevent rodents and gophers from digging borrows under the road way or to neighboring flood control levees and infrastructures. So, let us call these:
Road Noise – Harder to listen to predators or prey
Heating – Roads are hotter
Human Hunting Access
Poisoning – Rodent control on roadway ditches, sidewalks, road base
There are many road Kill studies – one I often like to mention is by Sean Anderson of California State University Channel Islands in CA. One of his graduate students has a thesis of interest; “Web-Based Reporting System for Road Kill” that was a remarkably insightful project as to just how many animals are killed each year in rural areas in California. Those animals who prevent roads live to procreate, people who don’t often get smushed, providing protein for scavengers who take advantage of the new food source – sometimes at their own peril.
Those animals that listen for cars, or watch attentively and respond quickly survive and flourish, procreate and continue. Nocturnal Animals that do not freeze in car headlights – well, they live and procreate too, people who don’t perish and become road pizza.
There have been many stories about Mountain Lions murdered on Southern California Freeways – attempting to cross. You’d think a mountain lion could learn and be agile enough to escape the way – not so, as nothing they have ever encountered weighs 6,000 lbs. And chases after them at 60+ miles per hour, so they are not on the watch for cars. Even though some of the mountain lions labeled have traditionally spanned freeways in CA, maybe they’re learning and adapting, teaching their young, maybe in 20-generations adaptations will start to appear as they evolve with this new threat?
A recent statistical study showed that the normal point in the US is less than 1/2 mile from a paved street. Our wildlife has to adapt or die to deal with these changes in their environment. You can just imagine the many ways these and other issues are changing their evolutionary adaptation. Pigeons have adapted to live in the city, in parks, along with other species – completely changing the dynamics of the normal evolutionary process, simply because everything we do, affects something else. BTW – I am not an environmentalist or an advocate for wildlife, but nobody can deny what I have said here today isn’t real.