General, Research, Technology

Does life in cities make animals smarter?

Adjust or die - this is the basic principlesurvival on earth. In the course of natural selection, many species and subspecies simply could not adapt to rapidly changing environmental conditions and disappeared. The evolutionary processes are best illustrated by the Darwinian bindweeds - the land birds of the Galapagos Islands, which have been studied for nearly 150 years. Over the years, several generations of biologists have returned to the islands to describe the changing environmental conditions and the evolution of finches. So, since the 1970s, researchers arrived in the Galapagos and caught finches, measuring the shape of their beaks. As a result, they were able to track the species of these birds by generations and if we summarize all the accumulated scientific data, we can see a detailed picture of the emergence of chicken embryos. Unexpectedly, right? At the same time, using BMP4 protein, which plays a role in the evolution of the beak, in the laboratory it is possible to restore the original form of the beak of bindweed. But if the beaks of Darwin's reels "adapted" to the surrounding changes, then how do modern cities affect animals?

In recent years, raccoons have become very popular and many give birth to them as pets.

Remember Agent Smith’s famous monologue in The Matrix, when he told Morphius the reason he wanted to destroy survivors? According to Agent Smith, people are akin to a virus or cancer, which enveloped the planet, destroying everything aroundyourself. You must admit that in some respects he was right - an increase in population, urban growth, expansion of agricultural land, as a result of which whole species disappear - climate change is causing the species to adapt. So, according to the results of scientific research, more about which can be read in our material, humanity has endangered about a million species of living creatures. However, this does not mean that all these animals will die.

In recent years, efforts to protect wildlife have shown excellent results in many countries, including India, where managed to restore the tiger population: 14-15 years ago, about 1.4 thousand individuals were in the country, and by 2019 their number increased to 3 thousand.

The growth and expansion of cities also affectsnatural habitats of animals and in order to survive, they must adapt. But are there any examples that allow you to visually see evolutionary changes in animal behavior? According to BBC Future, intelligence was probably very important and allowed some animals to thrive in human-modified places. Take for example elephants that easily break electric fences and "ram" barbed wire to get where they need to. Or Japanese ravens, who are known to throw nuts in the middle of the road so that cars pass over them and crack them. Scientists have found that it’s better to do this near traffic lights in order to catch a cracked nut when traffic stops.

Agree, the beak of reels is worthy of attention

On the other hand, a particular species could simply evolve in such a way that it is likely to succeed in urban environments. Scientists call these species “pre-adapted" Pigeons are typical representatives of this species. Historically, they probably nested on cliffs - and skyscrapers looked like cliffs, so it wasn’t so difficult for them to move to cities. However, pigeons are not the smartest birds compared to others. But at the same time, the pigeons peck the crumbs from the platforms of the railway stations and jump on the train when he arrives, and then jump out to the next station and there they continue the hunt for bread crumbs. This is the peculiarity of life in the city - almost everyone at some point turns out to be dependent on public transport.

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Pigeons and monuments - a headache for public utilities in large cities

Cities - a new step in evolution?

It is no secret that intelligence endows animal traits with character traits such as courage, flexibility of behavior and craving for everything new.

In a new study, the results of which are not yetpublished, scientists describe how these attributes can help animals cope with specific problems in cities and towns. Researchers at the University of Wyoming are studying how raccoons in Laramie react to puzzle boxes that can be decided to earn a reward. Battery-operated containers are placed in suburban areas and put inside the reward - a piece of dog food - which the raccoon will receive only if it clicks on one of the two buttons inside the box. As soon as the raccoon finds out that you need to press the button on the left, the mechanism flips over. And gradually the animal realizes that now it is necessary to press on the button on the right. It turns out raccoons create fast associations and are able to change their behavior. Moreover, over time, they succeed better and better.

Interesting: Climate change makes birds evolve

However, it still remains unclearDoes the urban environment really make animals smarter over time than they would otherwise. In the wild, it is wiser to be careful, but courage in the city can bring a reward. Perhaps we are actually creating a smarter urban wildlife, the authors of the study say. It is difficult to prove that there are large differences in cognitive abilities between urban and rural individuals of the same species. In the same way, as well as to prove that modern city animals are smarter than their ancestors 100 years ago. Agree, a million dollar question.

Classic picture - raccoon looking for yummy

For example, coyotes often raidtrash cans, just like raccoons, to get food. An article published last year traced the behavior of coyotes at 60 sites across the United States — it turned out that half of them were urban and half were rural. In general, urban coyotes were bolder and explored the environment more than their rural counterparts. The reason may be that in the wild, it is wiser to be careful, while courage can bring rewards in the city. In Russia, you must have seen seagulls more than onceget food in garbage dumps and city dumps. But homeless cats try to live closer to people, for example, in the basements of residential buildings, where there are more chances to find food and human help.

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However, not always cities and towns canchallenge nature. An urban environment on an evolutionary time scale has just been born. The plants and animals around us are apparently forced to adapt, but it is possible that, after a very long period of time, the pressure on evolution will weaken. The reason is that people create a relatively predictable habitat. Animals can increasingly specialize in urban spaces and are less and less dependent on smart strategies. Why learn to solve a complex puzzle when you can, say, get nutrients from sewer pipes? And do city animals turn into pests in this way?