Humans shape biotic communities in cities in profound ways, from obvious changes in species composition, to less noticeable shifts in timing of breeding, predator-prey dynamics, and foraging behaviour. Historically, ecologists and conservation biologists, largely viewed cities through a relatively simple lens: cities remove and fragment natural habitats. Urban biotic communities are by implication deficient or damaged – they lack key guilds or species and are highly invaded. There is growing shift, however, in how human-altered landscapes are viewed and valued. Researchers and practitioners are embracing terms and approaches that increasingly situate humans as integral to positive changes in ecosystems: “designed ecosystems,” “transformative restoration,” “assisted migration,” and “reconciliation ecology.” There are good reasons to be cautious about embracing these more anthro-centric approaches, and many are controversial. Yet, realism dictates that we contemplate the implications of a domesticated planet, one where the distribution and abundance of species become increasingly dependent on human values, decisions, and actions.
Viewed through this more anthro-centric lens, we propose that cities are sources of novelty, hotspots of resource inputs (as well as resource consumption), agents of decoupling for ecological phenomena, and drivers of evolutionary change. We examine here some of the complex pathways through which humans influence biotic communities, with consequences that may ripple through food webs in previously unexpected ways. In particular, we highlight the pervasive impacts of anthropogenic foods. Anthropogenic food can directly increase population sizes of wildlife that consume it or indirectly mediate top-down control by altering diets of predators or increasing populations of prey to the point that predation cannot constrain them. In addition, anthropogenic food is the product of industrial agriculture, processing, packaging, and shipping of foods from where they were produced to where they are consumed by wildlife. As a result, we propose anthropogenic food is a novel, socio-ecological force affecting trophic dynamics in an increasingly urban world. The future conservation of regionally distinct fauna and flora increasingly depends on viewing and managing urban ecosystems through a more anthro-centric lens.