It’s a new and surprising chapter in the theory of evolution. According to recent studies, it’s in our cities, of all places, that animals and plants adapt particularly quickly to changing living conditions.
Nature’s response to the spread of cities is astonishing: Why do catfish in the river of a French city systematically prey on urban pigeons on the banks? Why do female birds on a university campus in California suddenly change their mating behavior? How do mice in New York’s Central Park cope with an altered diet of human food waste? How have killifish in the Atlantic built up resistance to deadly chemical waste?
And, is it possible for moths to adapt to nighttime light pollution? New research provides surprising new insights into Darwin’s theory of evolution. Nowhere else do animals and plants adapt so quickly to new living conditions as in cities. Biologists have long known that animals and plants occupy new habitats in the vicinity of humans.
But now, new genetic analyses show that these adaptations are accompanied by significant changes in DNA. Even more surprising: these evolutionary changes have not occurred over periods of millennia, but within just a few decades. The process has amazed scientists, who watch as nature transforms even our most hostile man-made interventions — pollution, light pollution, noise, garbage and dense development — into creative energy for new adaptations. Some researchers believe that our cities may soon develop their own, brand-new life forms. What are the implications of these developments for the balance between humans and nature on our planet?
More than ten million years ago, the world was brimming with a wide variety of apes. Scientists studying the ones that are still alive today can learn a lot about human evolution—but they miss out on many clues that can only be found from the apes that went extinct. Watch to learn how fossil apes have strengthened ideas about how humans evolved, and what steps we can take to learn even more about our ancient ancestors. Read the review: https://scim.ag/3hw5PVx
Bears are able to live and sometimes thrive from the North Pole to the tropical rainforests around the equator and although they are largely confined to the forests nowadays, in the not too distant past they dominated grassy plains as well. And in overcoming the challenges of each new habitat they migrated into presented, they have evolved to drastically change diets. Bears evolved from small carnivorous animals and yet have become omnivorous, insect eaters, or have a diet occupied entirely of plant foods. So how have bears been able to evolve to eat almost any food in a very small amount of time.
Host Sarah Crespi talks with Contributing Correspondent Joshua Sokol about magnetars—highly magnetized neutron stars. A recent intense outburst of gamma rays from a nearby galaxy has given astronomers a whole new view on these mysterious magnetic monsters.
Also on this week’s show, Christoph Zollikofer, a professor of anthropology at the University of Zurich, talks about the evolution of humanlike brains. His team’s work with brain-case fossils suggests the complex brains we carry around today were not present in the early hominins to leave Africa, but later developed in the cousins they left behind.
Belief in conspiracy theories is far more widespread than the stereotypes that dominate pop culture. Recently, QAnon, Covid-19 and 5G theories have gained traction and criticism while less controversial conspiracies like the faked moon landing have persisted for decades. We all share hardwired evolutionary traits that make us vulnerable to them, from the way we assign truth to new information to our tendency to find patterns in unrelated phenomena. But if we’re all potentially susceptible to conspiracy theories, how can we manage these cognitive shortcuts?