Evolutionary dynamics in the anthropocene: Life history and intensity of human contact shape antipredator responses

Benjamin Geffroy, Bastien Sadoul, Breanna J. Putman, Oded Berger-Tal, László Zsolt Garamszegi, Anders Pape Møller, Daniel T. Blumstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Humans profoundly impact landscapes, ecosystems, and animal behavior. In many cases, animals living near humans become tolerant of them and reduce antipredator responses. Yet, we still lack an understanding of the underlying evolutionary dynamics behind these shifts in traits that affect animal survival. Here, we used a phylogenetic meta-analysis to determine how the mean and variability in antipredator responses change as a function of the number of generations spent in contact with humans under 3 different contexts: urbanization, captivity, and domestication. We found that any contact with humans leads to a rapid reduction in mean antipredator responses as expected. Notably, the variance among individuals over time observed a short-term increase followed by a gradual decrease, significant for domesticated animals. This implies that intense human contact immediately releases animals from predation pressure and then imposes strong anthropogenic selection on traits. In addition, our results reveal that the loss of antipredator traits due to urbanization is similar to that of domestication but occurs 3 times more slowly. Furthermore, the rapid disappearance of antipredator traits was associated with 2 main life-history traits: foraging guild and whether the species was solitary or gregarious (i.e., group-living). For domesticated animals, this decrease in antipredator behavior was stronger for herbivores than for omnivores or carnivores and for solitary than for gregarious species. By contrast, the decrease in antipredator traits was stronger for gregarious, urbanized species, although this result is based mostly on birds. Our study offers 2 major insights on evolution in the Anthropocene: (1) changes in traits occur rapidly even under unintentional human "interventions" (i.e., urbanization) and (2) there are similarities between the selection pressures exerted by domestication and by urbanization. In all, such changes could affect animal survival in a predator-rich world, but through understanding evolutionary dynamics, we can better predict when and how exposure to humans modify these fitness-related traits.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3000818
JournalPLoS Biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Evolutionary dynamics in the anthropocene: Life history and intensity of human contact shape antipredator responses'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this