Cities: the new ecological frontier

August 07, 2002

From an ecological perspective, cities are stressed out. Urban trees struggle to stay alive as they contend with concrete-encrusted roots and the pounding of automobile traffic. Normal water flows are redirected under buildings and roads into concrete channels. Habitats are severely fragmented and energy and nutrient cycles are disrupted. Even as cities contend with these stresses, they must brace for increasing pressures: urban dwellers are predicted to exceed the number of rural residents for the first time ever in the coming decade. Now ecologists, urban planners, hydrologists, landscape architects, and others are teaming up in an effort to help shape cities so that they are more sustainable.

"There is growing interest among urban ecologists, planners, and many others to better understand the likely outcomes of various changes occurring in our cities and helping to ensure that these outcomes will lead to the kind of cities we want," says Laura Musacchio of Arizona State University (ASU).

She and colleague Jianguo (Jingle) Wu, also of ASU, have organized a symposium session to be held at the joint meeting of the Ecological Society of America and the Society for Ecological Restoration, which will bring together some of the nation's leading experts on urban ecology.

The symposium will present case studies, models, and other strategies to predict outcomes of urban environments. Among the perspectives shared will be insights gained at the National Science Foundation's two urban ecology sites, including Charles Redman and Nancy Grimm of the Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research site and Steward Pickett and Mary Cadenasso of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study.

Ray Quay, affiliated with both ASU's Greater Phoenix 2100 and the City of Phoenix, will discuss the North Sonoran Collaborative, a group of urban and environmental planning professionals who collected natural resource data sorely needed by the city of Phoenix. The city--one of the nation's fastest growing--is increasingly concerned about the rapid depletion of its desert areas and has adopted a plan for "desert sensitive" development.

Frederick Steiner of the University of Texas-Austin, who collaborated with Quay, will describe eight concepts that provide understanding of cities as ecosystems.

Marina Alberti and John Marzluff of the University of Washington-Seattle, will present an integrated model that explores how interactions between socio-economic and biophysical processes affect human and ecological patterns and how those patterns in turn control the distribution of energy, materials, and organisms in urban environments.

Alternative futures analysis, another approach used to inform community decisions about land and water use, will be described by David Hulse, of the University of Oregon and Stan Gregory, of Oregon State University. Focusing on Oregon's Willamette River Basin, three alternative future landscapes for the year 2050 are compared to present-day and historical landscapes. Hulse, Gregory and their fellow researchers have evaluated the effects of these landscape changes on water availability, condition, and terrestrial wildlife. The results are being actively discussed by stakeholder groups to develop a restoration strategy in Oregon's Willamette River Basin.

Joan Nassauer and colleagues of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor will review alternative residential growth scenarios for the urban fringe of the Detroit Metropolitan Region and their potential impacts on local streams.

To find out more about the Ecological Society of America's 87th Annual Meeting, please visit our website http://www.esa.org/Tucson. Held at the Tucson Convention Center August 5-9, 2002, these sessions are part of a gathering of over 3,500 scientists and conservationists.

The symposium, "Cities of Resilience: Integrating Ecology into Urban Planning, Design, Policy, and Management" will be held from 8 AM - 11:30 AM on Wednesday, August 7, 2002 in the Leo Rich Theatre of the Tucson Convention Center.

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is a scientific, non-profit, 7,800-member organization founded in 1915. Through ESA reports, journals, membership research, and expert testimony to Congress, ESA seeks to promote the responsible application of ecological data and principles to the solution of environmental problems. ESA publishes three scientific, peer-reviewed journals: Ecology, Ecological Applications, and Ecological Monographs. Information about the Society and its activities is published in the Society's quarterly newsletter, ESA NewSource, and in the quarterly Bulletin.

Ecological Society of America

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