Is the history of New York City inscribed in the genes of mice?”

From a recent interview in Nautilus with biologist Jason Munshi-South:

Is the history of New York City inscribed in the genes of mice?

Partially, yes. We can imagine before Europeans the mice were everywhere, moving around. As Europeans developed New York City and southern Manhattan, and then agricultural areas everywhere else, the mice were probably still moving around for the most part through agricultural areas. But once you got to heavy urbanization of Manhattan about 150 years ago, and of the other boroughs about 120 years ago, in a matter of a few decades these parks were developed and became quite isolated.

We can use the genetics to date when populations became isolated. The dates are rough because we have to make some assumptions, but they do coincide with the history of urbanization in New York City. So that history is written into the genes of some of these animals.

My friend Mark pointed me to Nautilus–”a different kind of science magazine” is how it describes itself–and, based on his recommendation, I subscribed to the print and RSS.

If evolutionary rodent biology is your thing, be sure to also read Randy Dibblee’s The Beaver on Prince Edward Island: Seeking a Balance, from Island Magazine. It’s a gripping tale: beavers were extirpated here by the late 1800s, and then reintroduced in 1908. We’ve had a fractious relationship with them ever since:

Not everyone considers the beaver a benefactor. From a human perspective, the ability to create valuable wetlands can also cause destruction. Like most wildlife, beavers are perceived as prob- lems when their activities are at odds with human objectives. Their ability to block water flow, plug culverts, and flood cultivated land, plantations, high- ways, and access roads — not to mention their woodcutting acumen — puts beavers at the top of the “problem wildlife” list for North America.


Ton's picture
Ton on August 4, 2017 - 04:44 Permalink

I remember reading an article describing how the DNA of cats in Manhattan is closer to current Dutch cats than other US cats. It reconstructed how Dutch ship cats apparently dominated the genepool even after the British took over New Amsterdam.