Effects of urban-induced mutations on ecology, evolution and health

Marc T.J. Johnson, Irtaqa Arif, Francesco Marchetti, Jason Munshi-South, Rob W. Ness, Marta Szulkin, Brian C. Verrelli, Carole L. Yauk, Daniel N. Anstett, Warren Booth, Aude E. Caizergues, Elizabeth J. Carlen, Anthony Dant, Josefa González, César González Lagos, Madeleine Oman, Megan Phifer-Rixey, Diana J. Rennison, Michael S. Rosenberg, Kristin M. Winchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Increasing evidence suggests that urbanization is associated with higher mutation rates, which can affect the health and evolution of organisms that inhabit cities. Elevated pollution levels in urban areas can induce DNA damage, leading to de novo mutations. Studies on mutations induced by urban pollution are most prevalent in humans and microorganisms, whereas studies of non-human eukaryotes are rare, even though increased mutation rates have the potential to affect organisms and their populations in contemporary time. Our Perspective explores how higher mutation rates in urban environments could impact the fitness, ecology and evolution of populations. Most mutations will be neutral or deleterious, and higher mutation rates associated with elevated pollution in urban populations can increase the risk of cancer in humans and potentially other species. We highlight the potential for urban-driven increased deleterious mutational loads in some organisms, which could lead to a decline in population growth of a wide diversity of organisms. Although beneficial mutations are expected to be rare, we argue that higher mutation rates in urban areas could influence adaptive evolution, especially in organisms with short generation times. Finally, we explore avenues for future research to better understand the effects of urban-induced mutations on the fitness, ecology and evolution of city-dwelling organisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1074-1086
Number of pages13
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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