The animals, plants, and fungi that surround us in cities are critical to our health and well-being. They perform myriad functions that make our air more breathable, our streets less flood-prone, and our local environment more beautiful and peaceful.
Yet, we build our cities with little regard for these benefits. On the one hand, urban sprawl, the dominant form of urban development in the US, replaces natural habitats, leading to a tremendous loss of wildlife. In fact, urbanization is one of the types of land use change that has led to the worldwide biodiversity crisis. On the other hand, we limit the space available to wildlife in the more built-up parts of our cities. We don’t make room for patches of wildflowers, long-lived street trees, and pocket parks where some wildlife can thrive.
My job is to figure out how urban development impacts wildlife in order to suggest ways in which we can do things differently. These critical questions guide the research in my lab:
How does urban form, or the spatial pattern of development, affect wildlife in developed areas? See here for an attempt at an answer.
How does urban intensification, like increasing population and housing density, affect biodiversity and how important is it in relation to other landscape changes that occur when cities expand, like habitat loss? Check out my students’ recent paper on this question.
What happens to biodiversity when cities grow and why? Do different cities show the same or different patterns of biodiversity change? See my latest work on this here.
How do wildlife respond to urban infrastructure, like roads and stormwater ponds? Here’s an example using barred owls.
What role do urban resident actions and preferences play in influencing the wildlife you might find in developed areas? Check out the Likeable, Therefore Abundant Hypothesis my students and I proposed in this paper.
These questions keep us busy, but alone they are not enough to increase nature’s share of our cities. I also spend my time trying to find ways by which the knowledge produced by ecologists like myself can actually be used by local residents, developers, and city planners to conserve and even increase urban biodiversity. I’m dedicated to not only understanding urban biodiversity better but to also helping to make it more of a regular part of day-to-day city life. Please see my latest on this here.
Also check out my CV for more details about what I do.