Are humans making animals smarter?

Illustration: Jackson Gibss

Illustration: Jackson Gibss

By 2030, it’s estimated that nearly 10 percent of the planet’s land will be covered by cities. More than half the human population now lives in urban areas, and an untold number of animals do, too. Sometimes animals end up in cities because they have nowhere else to go. Other times they happily move in, finding readily available food or other advantages over life in the wild.

One of the great mysteries of urban adaptation is what, if anything, living in cities does to animal minds. Research on urban wildlife has already shown that cities can have jaw-dropping effects on animals’ behavior.

In a recent study, University of Minnesota biologist Emilie C. Snell-Rood found evidence suggesting that our direct changes to the natural habitats of animals (through technologies advances, antibiotics and revised food pyramids) have caused some animals to evolve with bigger brains. 

The brains of the animals plucked from metropolitan areas were about 6% bigger than those of the animals taken from farms or other rural areas

Dr. Snell-Rood studied dozens of individual animal skulls, some as old as a century, from ten different species including bats, gophers and mice. In two of the species, the white-footed mouse and the meadow role, the brains of the animals plucked from metropolitan areas or suburbs were about 6% bigger than those of the animals taken from farms or other rural areas. Dr. Snell-Rood's hypothesis after assessing the first wave of results was that brains become significantly bigger when they move to cities or bustling towns, where the animals must learn to find food in places that they're not biologically trained to encounter or expect.

Illustration: Jackson Gibbs
Sources: The Atlantic - AlterNet


EnvironmentNiccolo Gorfer