Urban ecology can reveal cities' unique issues


[]Cities may not look like natural ecosystems, but they are prime examples of networks where everything is interdependent. That makes ecology a great method for studying those interactions and their consequences. It’s just that in addition to examining forces like predation or changing rainfall, you have to add in things like politics and and socioeconomic status. According to the speakers on an urban ecology panel on Monday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, DC, this idea isn’t about studying the interaction of cities and nature, counting the dispirited frogs trying to eke out a life next to a creek running through a suburb. It’s about using ecological tools to reframe cities as urban biomes, where factors as disparate as climate, green space policy, and economic inequality all interact to create unique ecosystems for the people (and plants and animals) that live in them.

[]Urban ecology can help bring those feedback loops to light, but the field alone doesn’t offer any fixes. Holistic and effective solutions require tremendous political will and nuanced social policies. But urban ecology does reveal where the cruxes of many of of a city’s problems actually lie. Ecology is great for understanding complex, interdependent networks—both ones found in nature and ones we’ve built ourselves.

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