Urban evolutionary ecology brings exaptation back into focus

Kristin M. Winchell, Jonathan B. Losos, Brian C. Verrelli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The contribution of pre-existing phenotypic variation to evolution in novel environments has long been appreciated. Nevertheless, evolutionary ecologists have struggled with communicating these aspects of the adaptive process. In 1982, Gould and Vrba proposed terminology to distinguish character states shaped via natural selection for the roles they currently serve (‘adaptations’) from those shaped under preceding selective regimes (‘exaptations’), with the intention of replacing the inaccurate ‘preadaptation’. Forty years later, we revisit Gould and Vrba's ideas which, while often controversial, continue to be widely debated and highly cited. We use the recent emergence of urban evolutionary ecology as a timely opportunity to reintroduce the ideas of Gould and Vrba as an integrated framework to understand contemporary evolution in novel environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)719-726
Number of pages8
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2023


  • adaptation
  • ecological filtering
  • natural selection
  • urbanization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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