The relationship between cities and animals, by Salvador Macip


As we approach the summer, and as it happens every year, the debate about the current model of tourism and how it affects certain cities. This season is even more evident, with the prospect of an August full of thousands of travelers trying make up for lost time due to pandemic restrictions. It is a problem that a large majority of us are guilty of: whoever has not been to an emblematic city to do the peeping to cast the first stone. But, obscured by the ecological consequences of promoting mass tourism, there are other type of impact that cities have on the planet.

Cities, as we know them now, are a recent invention, which did not explode until the 20th century. While only 13% of humanity lived in urban areas in 1900, the figure was already over 50% just a century later. The trend continues: it is estimated that in the middle of this century the figure will rise to around 70%. Our preferred social structure, therefore, makes us tend more and more towards a mostly empty territory, with occasional concentrations of population isolated from nature, which had been our original habitat. In the same way that the first modern cities, from the industrial revolution, were a public health hazard Due to deficiencies in urban sanitation, which facilitated the spread of all kinds of diseases, we now have another series of problems derived from these agglomerations that, as always, we are trying to solve on the flywhen perhaps what it would take was to have thought about it before.

In this sense, a new field of work has been proposed to analyze these issues, which has been called the ‘urbanome’. In the same way that the genome is a set of genes considered holistically, the ‘urbanome’ would be the sum of the cities (the structure) and the organisms that inhabit them, with the different physical, social and functional relationships established between them. they. The idea is that, by defining a frame of reference, we can better understand the positive and negative aspects that are derived.

One thing to note, for example, is that cities exert evolutionary pressure on living beings that interact: In these human-defined environments, plants, animals, and microbes see natural selection accelerated. For example, on the east coast of the USA they have appeared fish more resistant to contaminationhigh in that area. And in Cleveland they have found ants that tolerate the high temperatures of the city better than their counterparts that live in the countryside. We also know that the progressive invasion of ecosystems brings the urban population into contact with wild animals with which they had not interacted before. This is a risk of zoonosisinfections that jump from animals to people, as we have seen in the recent pandemic.

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Domestication also creates stressful situations when doing wholesale in cities, as in the case of pet animals. It is believed that cats and dogs have already contributed substantially to the extinction of several species (63 the former, 11 the latter). Although we consider our pets to be civilized, they continue to retain some of their original instincts, killing birds, reptiles, other mammals, etc. In the United Kingdom have calculated that domestic cats are responsible for the death of 275 million animals each year. An apparently innocent activity like walking the dog through a wooded area, like the ones in many cities, makes you see a 35% reduction in diversity of birds in the area (and 41% in the total number), not only because the dogs can attack them, which happens from time to time, but simply because of the fear they generate in the birds, which change their behavior. In a more indirect way, cats are affecting marine mammals such as dolphins or whales, because they excrete the protozoan responsible for toxoplasmosis, which affects them little. When polluted water from cities reaches the sea, living animals become infected and can die.

More time and resources must be devoted to the study of the ‘urbanome’, if we want to define a less disruptive and healthier city model. We not only have to make them friendlier for the humans who inhabit them (adapting them to an increasingly aging population is one of the main challenges), but also be aware of the impact they have on animals, beyond the problem of environmental pollution. . And this is everyone’s job.


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