The Bio-Evolutionary Anthropocene Hypothesis: Rethinking the Role of Human-Induced Novel Organisms in Evolution

  • Pablo José Francisco Pena RodriguesEmail author
  • Catarina Fonseca Lira


Anthropogenic changes in the biosphere, driven mainly by human cultural habits and technological advances, are altering the direction of evolution on Earth, with ongoing and permanent changes modifying uncountable interactions between organisms, the environment, and humankind itself. While numerous species may go extinct, others will be favored due to strong human influences. The Bio-Evolutionary Anthropocene hypothesizes that directly or indirectly human-driven organisms, including alien species, hybrids, and genetically modified organisms, will have major roles in the evolution of life on Earth, shifting the evolutionary pathways of all organisms through novel biological interactions in all habitats. We anticipate that, in future scenarios, novel organisms will be continuously created, and contemporary native organisms with no obvious economic use will decline—while anthropogenic-favored and novel organisms will spread. The Bio-Evolutionary Anthropocene hypothesis therefore predicts that humankind and novel organisms will interact within a strong evolutionary bias that will lead to unexpected, and probably irreversible, outcomes for the evolution of life on our planet.


Alien species Evolutionary pathways Genetically modified organisms Human hyper-dominance Hybrids 



Financial support was provided by the Ministério do Meio Ambiente/PROBIO II. We thank Professor Stuart A. Newman, Deborah Klosky, and one anonymous reviewer for comments on the manuscript, and Mr. Roy Funch for linguistic advice.


  1. Akcil A, Koldas S (2006) Acid mine drainage (AMD): causes, treatment and case studies. J Clean Prod 14:1139–1145. Google Scholar
  2. Alberti M (2015) Eco-evolutionary dynamics in an urbanizing planet. Trends Ecol Evol 30:114–126. Google Scholar
  3. Allan BJM, Domenici P, McCormick MI, Watson S-A, Munday PL (2013) Elevated CO2 affects predator-prey interactions through altered performance. PLoS ONE 8:e58520. Google Scholar
  4. Allendorf FW, Hard JJ (2009) Human-induced evolution caused by unnatural selection through harvest of wild animals. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 106:9987–9994. Google Scholar
  5. Arnold ML (2004) Natural hybridization and the evolution of domesticated, pest and disease organisms. Mol Ecol 13:997–1007. Google Scholar
  6. Azadi H, Ho P (2010) Genetically modified and organic crops in developing countries: a review of options for food security. Biotechnol Adv 28:160–168Google Scholar
  7. Barnosky AD, Matzke N, Tomiya S, Wogan GOU, Swartz B et al (2011) Has the earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived? Nature 471:51–57. Google Scholar
  8. Barnosky AD, Hadly EA, Bascompte J, Berlow EL, Brown JH et al (2012) Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere. Nature 486:52–58. Google Scholar
  9. Barrera-Guzmán AO, Aleixo A, Shawkey MD, Weir JT (2017) Hybrid speciation leads to novel male secondary sexual ornamentation of an Amazonian bird. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 115:E218–E225. Google Scholar
  10. Bawa AS, Anilakumar KR (2013) Genetically modified foods: safety, risks and public concerns—a review. J Food Sci Technol 50:1035–1046. Google Scholar
  11. Bull JW, Maron M (2016) How humans drive speciation as well as extinction. Proc R Soc B 283:20160600. Google Scholar
  12. Butchart SHM, Walpole M, Collen B, van Strien A, Scharlemann JP et al (2010) Global biodiversity: indicators of recent declines. Science 328:1164–1168. Google Scholar
  13. Catarino R, Ceddia G, Areal FJ, Park J (2015) The impact of secondary pests on Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crops. Plant Biotechnol J 13:601–612. Google Scholar
  14. Chagnon M, Kreutzweiser D, Mitchell EAD, Morrissey CA, Noome DA, Van der Sluijs JP (2015) Risks of large-scale use of systemic insecticides to ecosystem functioning and services. Environ Sci Pollut Res 22:119–134. Google Scholar
  15. Chapin FS III, Zavaleta ES, Eviner VT, Naylor RL, Vitousek PM et al (2000) Consequences of changing biodiversity. Nature 405:234–242. Google Scholar
  16. Charlesworth D, Barton NH, Charlesworth B (2017) The sources of adaptive variation. Proc R Soc B 284:20162864. Google Scholar
  17. Cheke RA (2018) New pests for old as GMOs bring on substitute pests. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 115:8239–8240. Google Scholar
  18. Chunco AJ (2014) Hybridization in a warmer world. Ecol Evol 4:2019–2031Google Scholar
  19. Civitello DJ, Cohen J, Fatima H, Halstead NT, Liriano J et al (2015) Biodiversity inhibits parasites: broad evidence for the dilution effect. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 112:8667–8671. Google Scholar
  20. Clark DB (1996) Abolishing virginity. J Trop Ecol 12:735–739. Google Scholar
  21. Corlett RT (2015) The Anthropocene concept in ecology and conservation. Trends Ecol Evol 30:36–41. Google Scholar
  22. Cox GW (2004) Alien species and evolution: the evolutionary ecology of exotic plants, animals, microbes, and interacting native species. Nature 432:276–277Google Scholar
  23. Crispo E, Moore J-S, Lee-Yaw JA, Gray SM, Haller BC (2011) Broken barriers: human-induced changes to gene flow and introgression in animals. BioEssays 33:508–518. Google Scholar
  24. Dalby S (2016) Framing the Anthropocene: the good, the bad and the ugly. Anthr Rev 3:33–51. Google Scholar
  25. De Storme N, Mason A (2014) Plant speciation through chromosome instability and ploidy change: cellular mechanisms, molecular factors and evolutionary relevance. Curr Plant Biol 1:10–33. Google Scholar
  26. Deb S, Debnath MK, Chakraborty S, Weindorf DC, Kumar D et al (2018) Anthropogenic impacts on forest land use and land cover change: modelling future possibilities in the Himalayan Terai. Anthropocene 21:32–41. Google Scholar
  27. Dong SS, Xiao MQ, Ouyang DX, Rong J, Lu B-R et al (2017) Persistence of transgenes in wild rice populations depends on the interaction between genetic background of recipients and environmental conditions. Ann Appl Biol 171:202–213. Google Scholar
  28. Dorresteijn I, Schultner J, Nimmo DG, Fischer J, Hanspach J et al (2015) Incorporating anthropogenic effects into trophic ecology: predator–prey interactions in a human-dominated landscape. Proc R Soc B 282:20151602. Google Scholar
  29. Driscoll CA, Macdonald DW, O’Brien SJ (2009) From wild animals to domestic pets, an evolutionary view of domestication. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 106:9971–9978. Google Scholar
  30. Ehrlich PR, Holdren JP (1971) Impact of population growth. Science 171:1212–1217. Google Scholar
  31. Ellis EC (2011) Anthropogenic transformation of the terrestrial biosphere. Philos Trans R Soc A 369:1010–1035. Google Scholar
  32. Ellis MA, Trachtenberg Z (2014) Which Anthropocene is it to be? Beyond geology to a moral and public discourse. Earth’s Future 2:122–125. Google Scholar
  33. Ellstrand NC, Meirmans P, Rong J, Bartsch D, Ghosh A et al (2013) Introgression of crop alleles into wild or weedy populations. Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 44:325–345. Google Scholar
  34. Elton CS (1958) The ecology of invasions by animals and plants. Springer, BostonGoogle Scholar
  35. Forabosco F, Löhmus M, Rydhmer L, Sundström LF (2013) Genetically modified farm animals and fish in agriculture: a review. Livest Sci 153:1–9. Google Scholar
  36. Foxcroft LC, Jarošík V, Pyšek P, Richardson DM, Rouget M (2011) Protected-area boundaries as filters of plant invasions. Conserv Biol 25:400–405. Google Scholar
  37. Fuentes M (2018) Biological novelty in the anthropocene. J Theor Biol 437:137–140. Google Scholar
  38. Fuentes I, Stegemann S, Golczyk H, Karcher D, Bock R (2014) Horizontal genome transfer as an asexual path to the formation of new species. Nature 511:232–235. Google Scholar
  39. Geraskin SA, Dikarev VG, Zyablitskaya YY, Oudalova AA, Spirin YV, Alexakhin RM (2003) Genetic consequences of radioactive contamination by the Chernobyl fallout to agricultural crops. J Environ Radioact 66:155–169. Google Scholar
  40. Ghosh T, Anderson S, Elvidge C, Sutton P (2013) Using nighttime satellite imagery as a proxy measure of human well-being. Sustainability 5:4988–5019. Google Scholar
  41. Gillings MR, Stokes HW (2012) Are humans increasing bacterial evolvability? Trends Ecol Evol 27:346–352. Google Scholar
  42. Grant PR, Grant BR (1992) Hybridization of bird species. Science 256:193–197. Google Scholar
  43. Hamilton C (2016) The Anthropocene as rupture. Anthr Rev 3:93–106. Google Scholar
  44. Hendry AP, Gotanda KM, Svensson EI (2017) Human influences on evolution, and the ecological and societal consequences. Philos Trans R Soc B 372:20160028. Google Scholar
  45. Hodgson D, McDonald JL, Hosken DJ (2015) What do you mean, ‘resilient’? Trends Ecol Evol 30:503–506. Google Scholar
  46. Huxel GR (1999) Rapid displacement of native species by invasive species: effects of hybridization. Biol Conserv 89:143–152. Google Scholar
  47. Johnson MTJ, Munshi-South J (2017) Evolution of life in urban environments. Science 358:eaam8327. Google Scholar
  48. Kalusová V, Chytrý M, van Kleunen M, Mucina L, Dawson W et al (2017) Naturalization of European plants on other continents: the role of donor habitats. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 114:13756–13761. Google Scholar
  49. Kost TD, Gessler C, Jänsch M, Flachowsky H, Patocchi A, Broggini GAL (2015) Development of the first cisgenic apple with increased resistance to fire blight. PLoS ONE 10:e0143980. Google Scholar
  50. Laland KN, Uller T, Feldman MW, Sterelny K, Müller GB et al (2015) The extended evolutionary synthesis: its structure, assumptions and predictions. Proc R Soc B 282:20151019. Google Scholar
  51. Lewis SL, Maslin MA (2015) Defining the Anthropocene. Nature 519:171–180. Google Scholar
  52. Liu J, Dietz T, Carpenter SR, Alberti M, Folke C et al (2007) Complexity of coupled human and natural systems. Science 317:1513–1516. Google Scholar
  53. Lodge DM (1993) Biological invasions: lessons for ecology. Trends Ecol Evol 8:133–137. Google Scholar
  54. Losey JE, Rayor LS, Carter ME (1999) Transgenic pollen harms monarch larvae. Nature 399:214. Google Scholar
  55. Ma JK-C, Barros E, Bock R, Christou P, Dale PJ et al (2005) Molecular farming for new drugs and vaccines. EMBO Rep 6:593–599. Google Scholar
  56. Mallet J (2005) Hybridization as an invasion of the genome. Trends in Ecology Evolution 20:229–237. Google Scholar
  57. Mallet J (2007) Hybrid Speciation. Nature 446:279–283. Google Scholar
  58. Malukiewicz J, Boere V, Fuzessy LF, Grativol AD, de Oliveira e Silva I et al (2015) Natural and anthropogenic hybridization in two species of eastern Brazilian marmosets (Callithrix jacchus and C. penicillata). PLoS ONE 10:e0127268. Google Scholar
  59. McClure SB (2013) Domesticated animals and biodiversity: early agriculture at the gates of Europe and long-term ecological consequences. Anthropocene 4:57–68. Google Scholar
  60. McKinney ML (2006) Urbanization as a major cause of biotic homogenization. Biol Conserv 127:247–260. Google Scholar
  61. McKinney ML, Lockwood JL (1999) Biotic homogenization: a few winners replacing many losers in the next mass extinction. Trends Ecol Evol 14:450–453. Google Scholar
  62. Milla R, Osborne CP, Turcotte MM, Violle C (2015) Plant domestication through an ecological lens. Trends Ecol Evol 30:463–469. Google Scholar
  63. Morse NB, Pellissier PA, Cianciola EN, Brereton RL, Sullivan MM et al (2014) Novel ecosystems in the Anthropocene: a revision of the novel ecosystem concept for pragmatic applications. Ecol Soc 19:art12. Google Scholar
  64. Muhlfeld CC, Kovach RP, Jones LA, Al-Chokhachy RK, Boyer MC et al (2014) Invasive hybridization in a threatened species is accelerated by climate change. Nat Clim Change 4:620–624. Google Scholar
  65. Nadeau CP, Urban MC, Bridle JR (2017) Climates past, present, and yet-to-come shape climate change vulnerabilities. Trends Ecol Evol 32:786–800. Google Scholar
  66. Otto SP (2007) The evolutionary consequences of polyploidy. Cell 131:452–462. Google Scholar
  67. Otto SP (2018) Adaptation, speciation and extinction in the Anthropocene. Proc R Soc B 285:20182047. Google Scholar
  68. Pelletier F, Coltman DW (2018) Will human influences on evolutionary dynamics in the wild pervade the Anthropocene? BMC Biol 16:7. Google Scholar
  69. Pigeon G, Festa-Bianchet M, Coltman DW, Pelletier F (2016) Intense selective hunting leads to artificial evolution in horn size. Evol Appl 9:521–530. Google Scholar
  70. Pimentel D, McNair S, Janecka J, Wightman J, Simmonds C et al (2001) Economic and environmental threats of alien plant, animal, and microbe invasions. Agricult Ecosyst Environ 84:1–20. Google Scholar
  71. Potts SG, Biesmeijer JC, Kremen C, Neumann P, Schweiger O, Kunin WE (2010) Global pollinator declines: trends, impacts and drivers. Trends Ecol Evol 25:345–353. Google Scholar
  72. Rhymer JM, Simberloff D (1996) Extinction by hybridization and introgression. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 27:83–109. Google Scholar
  73. Richardson DM, Pyšek P, Rejmánek M, Barbour MG, Panetta FD, West CJ (2000) Naturalization and invasion of alien plants: concepts and definitions. Divers Distrib 6:93–107. Google Scholar
  74. Rudman SM, Kreitzman M, Chan KMA, Schluter D (2017) Evosystem services: rapid evolution and the provision of ecosystem services. Trends Ecol Evol 32:403–415. Google Scholar
  75. Schumer M, Cui R, Rosenthal GG, Andolfatto P (2015) Reproductive isolation of hybrid populations driven by genetic incompatibilities. PLoS Genet 11:e1005041. Google Scholar
  76. Simberloff D, Martin J-L, Genovesi P, Maris V, Wardle DA et al (2013) Impacts of biological invasions: what’s what and the way forward. Trends Ecol Evol 28:58–66. Google Scholar
  77. Simmonds JS, Watson JEM, Salazar A, Maron M (2019) A composite measure of habitat loss for entire assemblages of species. Conserv Biol 5:4. Google Scholar
  78. Song Q, Zhang T, Stelly DM, Chen ZJ (2017) Epigenomic and functional analyses reveal roles of epialleles in the loss of photoperiod sensitivity during domestication of allotetraploid cottons. Genome Biol 18:99. Google Scholar
  79. Soucy SM, Huang J, Gogarten JP (2015) Horizontal gene transfer: building the web of life. Nat Rev Genet 16:472–482Google Scholar
  80. Steffen W, Crutzen J, McNeill JR (2007) The Anthropocene: are humans now overwhelming the great forces of Nature? Ambio 36:614–621Google Scholar
  81. Steffen W, Persson Å, Deutsch L, Zalasiewicz J, Williams M et al (2011) The Anthropocene: from global change to planetary stewardship. Ambio 40:739–761. Google Scholar
  82. Steffen W, Richardson K, Rockström J, Cornell SE, Fetzer I et al (2015) Planetary boundaries: guiding human development on a changing planet. Science 347:1259855. Google Scholar
  83. Stephens AEA, Krannitz PG, Myers JH (2009) Plant community changes after the reduction of an invasive rangeland weed, diffuse knapweed, Centaurea diffusa. Biol Control 51:140–146. Google Scholar
  84. Sullivan AP, Bird DW, Perry GH (2017) Human behaviour as a long-term ecological driver of non-human evolution. Nat Ecol Evol 1:1–11. Google Scholar
  85. Thomas CD (2013) The Anthropocene could raise biological diversity. Nature 502:7. Google Scholar
  86. Thompson JN (1999) The evolution of species interactions. Science 284:2116–2118. Google Scholar
  87. Toussaint A, Beauchard O, Oberdorff T, Brosse S, Villéger S (2016) Worldwide freshwater fish homogenization is driven by a few widespread non-native species. Biol Invas 18:1295–1304. Google Scholar
  88. Van Eenennaam AL (2017) Genetic modification of food animals. Curr Opin Biotechnol 44:27–34Google Scholar
  89. van Nes EH, Arani BMS, Staal A, van der Bolt B, Flores BM et al (2016) What do you mean, ‘tipping point’? Trends Ecol Evol 31:902–904. Google Scholar
  90. Vanwalleghem T, Gómez JA, Infante Amate J, González de Molina M, Vanderlinden K et al (2017) Impact of historical land use and soil management change on soil erosion and agricultural sustainability during the Anthropocene. Anthropocene 17:13–29. Google Scholar
  91. Vitousek PM (1997) Human domination of earth’s ecosystems. Science 277:494–499. Google Scholar
  92. Vitousek PM, Naylor R, Crews T, David MB, Drinkwater LE et al (2009) Nutrient imbalances in agricultural development. Science 324:1519–1520. Google Scholar
  93. Walther G-R, Roques A, Hulme PE, Sykes MT, Pysek P et al (2009) Alien species in a warmer world: risks and opportunities. Trends Ecol Evol 24:686–693. Google Scholar
  94. Wolfenbarger LL, Phifer PR (2000) The ecological risks and benefits of genetically engineered plants. Science 290:2088–2093. Google Scholar
  95. Worm B, Paine RT (2016) Humans as a hyperkeystone species. Trends Ecol Evol 31:600–607. Google Scholar
  96. Zalasiewicz J, Williams M, Waters CN, Barnosky AD, Palmesino J et al (2017) Scale and diversity of the physical technosphere: a geological perspective. Anthropocene Rev 4:9–22. Google Scholar
  97. Zhang C, Wohlhueter R, Zhang H (2016) Genetically modified foods: a critical review of their promise and problems. Food Sci Hum Wellness 5:116–123. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de Pesquisas Jardim Botânico do Rio de JaneiroRio de JaneiroBrazil

Personalised recommendations