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Evolutionary Applications


Many of the world's major cities are located in coastal zones, resulting in urban and industrial impacts on adjacent marine ecosystems. These pressures, which include pollutants, sewage, runoff and debris, temperature increases, hardened shorelines/structures, and light and acoustic pollution, have resulted in new evolutionary landscapes for coastal marine organisms. Marine environmental changes influenced by urbanization may create new selective regimes or may influence neutral evolution via impacts on gene flow or partitioning of genetic diversity across seascapes. While some urban selective pressures, such as hardened surfaces, are similar to those experienced by terrestrial species, others, such as oxidative stress, are specific to aquatic environments. Moreover, spatial and temporal scales of evolutionary responses may differ in the ocean due to the spatial extent of selective pressures and greater capacity for dispersal/gene flow. Here, we present a conceptual framework and synthesis of current research on evolutionary responses of marine organisms to urban pressures. We review urban impacts on genetic diversity and gene flow and examine evidence that marine species are adapting, or are predicted to adapt, to urbanization over rapid evolutionary time frames. Our findings indicate that in the majority of studies, urban stressors are correlated with reduced genetic diversity. Genetic structure is often increased in urbanized settings, but artificial structures can also act as stepping stones for some hard‐surface specialists, promoting range expansion. Most evidence for rapid adaptation to urban stressors comes from studies of heritable tolerance to pollutants in a relatively small number of species; however, the majority of marine ecotoxicology studies do not test directly for heritability. Finally, we highlight current gaps in our understanding of evolutionary processes in marine urban environments and present a framework for future research to address these gaps.


Published in Evolutionary Applications, Volume 14, Issue 1, January 2021, pp. 210-232, by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Available via doi: 10.1111/eva.13048.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.