How many wild animals have you seen today? Even if you live in a city, you are surrounded by wild species, from pigeons and foxes to bees and mosquitoes. Many have acquired adaptations, through natural selection, that make them better able to survive in environments that have been moulded by human activity. But should humans take some responsibility for these changes, which occur because we alter the world to suit our own needs? And should we attempt to manage both the environment and the animals – including their genes?
One way in which humans may have unintentionally altered the genetics of a wild species is by giving them food. In Britain, the constant supply of food from bird feeders throughout the year has altered the migratory patterns of blackcaps. These delicate brown birds are easy to identify if you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse. The male is black on the top of his head, whilst the female has a matching cap of russet red. In recent decades more blackcaps have been spending the winter in British gardens in the south and west of England, rather than migrating to Spain. This is partly because climate change has made British winters warmer, but it may also be because of garden bird food encouraging birds to stay put. Evidence comes partly from the long-term data we have about British birds, much of them provided by volunteer recorders through the British Trust for Ornithology’s Garden BirdWatch.
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