Urban evolutionary biology is the study of rapid evolutionary change in
response to humans and our use of lands to support city dwellers.
Because cities are relatively modern additions to the natural world,
research on urban evolution tends to focus on microevolutionary change
that has happened across a few to many hundreds of generations. These
questions still fall under the broad purview of evolutionary ecology.
But the severity, rapidity, and replication of environmental changes
that drive evolution in this context make it worthy of specific
attention. Urban evolution provides the opportunity to study the
earliest stages of evolution in a context that is scientifically
interesting and societally important. The newness of urban populations
and their proximity to natural populations also creates challenges when
trying to detect population genetic change. In a From the Cover article
in this issue of Molecular Ecology, Mueller et al. (2020) use whole
genome resequencing data to address some of these challenges while
exploring genetic changes associated with urbanization in 3 replicate
urban-rural burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) populations. Combining
multiple approaches across these sample sites Mueller et al. find
evidence for selection on genes whose function is related to synapses,
neuron projections, brain connectivity, and cognitive function in
general. That selection was parallel suggests brain processes were
likely important for urban adaptation.