Tag Archives: urban ecology

January 2018 in Review

Most frightening stories:

  • Larry Summers says we have a better than even chance of recession in the next three years. Sounds bad, but I wonder what that stat would look like for any randomly chosen three year period in modern history.
  • The United States is involved in at least seven wars: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Pakistan. Nuclear deterrence may not actually the work.
  • Cape Town, South Africa is in imminent danger of running out of water. Longer term, there are serious concerns about snowpack-dependent water supplies serving large urban populations in Asia and western North America.

Most hopeful stories:

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

quantifying ecological functions

Here is an interesting article on quantifying ecological functions. The main application appears to be wetland mitigation but the theory seems more general and could maybe be adapted to a variety of ecosystem restorations or creations.

Landscape consequences of aggregation rules for functional equivalence in compensatory mitigation programs

Mitigation and offset programs designed to compensate for ecosystem function losses due to development must balance losses from affected ecosystems and gains in restored ecosystems. Aggregation rules applied to ecosystem functions to assess site equivalence are based on implicit assumptions about the substitutability of functions among sites and can profoundly influence the distribution of restored ecosystem functions on the landscape. We investigated the consequences of rules applied to aggregation of ecosystem functions for wetland offsets in the Beaverhill watershed in Alberta, Canada. We considered the fate of 3 ecosystem functions: hydrology, water purification, and biodiversity. We set up an affect-and-offset algorithm to simulate the effect of aggregation rules on ecosystem function for wetland offsets. Cobenefits and trade-offs among functions and the constraints posed by the quantity and quality of restorable sites resulted in a redistribution of functions between affected and offset wetlands. Hydrology and water-purification functions were positively correlated and negatively correlated with biodiversity function. Weighted-average rules did not replace functions in proportion to their weights. Rules prioritizing biodiversity function led to more monofunctional wetlands and landscapes. The minimum rule, for which the wetland score was equal to the worst performing function, promoted multifunctional wetlands and landscapes. The maximum rule, for which the wetland score was equal to the best performing function, promoted monofunctional wetlands and multifunctional landscapes. Because of implicit trade-offs among ecosystem functions, no-net-loss objectives for multiple functions should be constructed within a landscape context. Based on our results, we suggest criteria for the design of aggregation rules for no net loss of ecosystem functions within a landscape context include the concepts of substitutability, cobenefits and trade-offs, landscape constraints, heterogeneity, and the precautionary principle.

more on movement ecology

I’m still digging into movement ecology, which has always fascinated me. Here is a comprehensive recent literature review on the subject.

Trends and missing parts in the study of movement ecology

Movement is important to all organisms, and accordingly it is addressed in a huge number of papers in the literature. Of nearly 26,000 papers referring to movement, an estimated 34% focused on movement by measuring it or testing hypotheses about it. This enormous amount of information is difficult to review and highlights the need to assess the collective completeness of movement studies and identify gaps. We surveyed 1,000 randomly selected papers from 496 journals and compared the facets of movement studied with a suggested framework for movement ecology, consisting of internal state (motivation, physiology), motion and navigation capacities, and external factors (both the physical environment and living organisms), and links among these components. Most studies simply measured and described the movement of organisms without reference to ecological or internal factors, and the most frequently studied part of the framework was the link between external factors and motion capacity. Few studies looked at the effects on movement of navigation capacity, or internal state, and those were mainly from vertebrates. For invertebrates and plants most studies were at the population level, whereas more vertebrate studies were conducted at the individual level. Consideration of only population-level averages promulgates neglect of between-individual variation in movement, potentially hindering the study of factors controlling movement. Terminology was found to be inconsistent among taxa and subdisciplines. The gaps identified in coverage of movement studies highlight research areas that should be addressed to fully understand the ecology of movement.

An idea that has always fascinated me is the idea that when designing a development or an even an entire urban area, you could actually lead with ecology, then layer hydrology, infrastructure, housing, and the other human elements on top of that. Sadly, I don’t think I know a single engineer or urban planner who would be particularly open minded to this idea.

models for movement and population ecology

This page has links to some academic/professional models of movement ecology and population ecology, such as predator-prey interactions. It’s something that interests me because with an accurate theory of how animals and plants function and interact in ecosystems over time, it should in principle be possible to design networks of urban, industrial, and agricultural areas that maximize ecological function.

Developing this knowledge would be step one. Of course, there would still be the small matter of our civilization deciding this is something it would like to do.

wildlife range in urban areas

Here’s an interesting study finding a general rule across many types of wildlife that their range after urbanization decreases to between one-half and one-third of what it was before urbanization.

Moving in the Anthropocene: Global reductions in terrestrial mammalian movements

Animal movement is fundamental for ecosystem functioning and species survival, yet the effects of the anthropogenic footprint on animal movements have not been estimated across species. Using a unique GPS-tracking database of 803 individuals across 57 species, we found that movements of mammals in areas with a comparatively high human footprint were on average one-half to one-third the extent of their movements in areas with a low human footprint. We attribute this reduction to behavioral changes of individual animals and to the exclusion of species with long-range movements from areas with higher human impact. Global loss of vagility alters a key ecological trait of animals that affects not only population persistence but also ecosystem processes such as predator-prey interactions, nutrient cycling, and disease transmission.

One type of animal included in the study was deer in Pennsylvania. I also learned the name of the academic discipline that studies animal ranges and movements: movement ecology.

living near a forest is good for your amygdala

The amygdala is a part of your brain, and what is good for it is good for you.

“Our results reveal a significant positive association between the coverage of forest and amygdala integrity,” the researchers report. The amygdala is the almond-shaped set of neurons that plays a key role in the processing of emotions, including fear and anxiety.

Perhaps surprisingly, Kuehn and her colleagues found no such association from living close to urban green spaces such as parks, or near bodies of water. Only proximity to forest land had this apparent positive effect…

The study complements the already-strong psychological evidence of the benefits of living close to nature. Previous research has linked access to green space to longer lives, lower levels of aggression, and kids’ cognitive development. One study suggests it even makes for nicer people.

the latest on trees and ecosystem services

I don’t have to be sold on trees and ecosystem services at this point. Planting a ton of trees in cities, and maintaining them well, should be a priority given what we know at this point. I wish we were doing that and ready to move on to talk about adding other layers of vegetation in cities, and designing networks and corridors to connect urban green infrastructure to neighborhood and regional parks and larger reserves outside the city. We are not there, at least in my city, which is generally viewed as somewhat progressive. Anyway, here are some new papers and resources I have come across while perusing the various Elsevier journals:

Urban Heat Islands in Relation to Green Land Use in European Cities

Effect of native habitat on the cooling ability of six nursery-grown tree species and cultivars for future roadside plantings

The effects of trees on air pollutant levels in peri-urban near-road environments

Carbohydrate dynamics in roots, stems, and branches after maintenance pruning in two common urban tree species of North America

Wetlands and carbon revisited

Every breath you take, every move you make: Visits to the outdoors and physical activity help to explain the relationship between air pollution and subjective wellbeing

Physiological and psychological effects of viewing urban forest landscapes assessed by multiple measurements

Biophilic Cities

Biophilic Cities is a group trying to create “cities of abundant nature in close proximity to large numbers of urbanites. Biophilic cities value residents innate connection and access to nature through abundant opportunities to be outside and to enjoy the multisensory aspects of nature by protecting and promoting nature within the city.” This seems a bit big picture and visionary, but they also have some practical resources such a collection of codes and ordinances used by various cities.

2017 in Review

Most frightening stories of 2017:

  • January: The U.S. government may be “planning to roll back or dilute many of the provisions of Dodd-Frank, particularly those that protect consumers from toxic financial products and those that impose restrictions on banks”.
  • February: The Doomsday Clock was moved to 2.5 minutes to midnight. The worst it has ever been was 2 minutes to midnight in the early 1980s. In related news, the idea of a U.S.-China war is looking a bit more plausible. The U.S. military may be considering sending ground troops to Syria.
  • MarchLa Paz, Bolivia, is in a serious crisis caused by loss of its glacier-fed water supply. At the same time we are losing glaciers and snowpack in important food-growing regions, the global groundwater situation is also looking bleak. And for those of us trying to do our little part for water conservation, investing in a residential graywater system can take around 15 years to break even at current costs and water rates.
  • April: The U.S. health care market is screwed up seemingly beyond repair. Why can’t we have nice things? Oh right, because our politicians represent big business, not voters. Also, we have forgotten the difference between a dialog and an argument.
  • May: We hit 410 ppm at Mauna Loa.
  • JuneThe Onion shared this uncharacteristically unfunny observation: “MYTH: There is nothing mankind can do to prevent climate change. FACT: There is nothing mankind will do to prevent climate change”. It’s not funny because it’s probably true.
  • July: Long term food security in Asia could be a problem.
  • August: The U.S. construction industry has had negligible productivity gains in the past 40 years.
  • September: During the Vietnam War the United States dropped approximately twice as many tons of bombs in Southeast Asia as the Allied forces combined used against both Germany and Japan in World War II. After the Cold War finally ended, Mikhail Gorbachev made some good suggestions for how to achieve a lasting peace. They were ignored. We may be witnessing the decline of the American Empire as a result.
  • October: It is possible that a catastrophic loss of insects is occurring and that it may lead to ecological collapse. Also, there is new evidence that pollution is harming human health and even the global economy more than previously thought.
  • November: I thought about war and peace in November. Well, mostly war. War is frightening. The United States of America appears to be flailing about militarily all over the world guided by no foreign policy. Big wars of the past have sometimes been started by overconfident leaders thinking they could get a quick military victory, only to find themselves bogged down in something much larger and more intractable than they imagined. But enemies are good to have – the Nazis understood that a scared population will believe what you tell them.
  • December: A lot of people would probably agree that the United States government is becoming increasingly dysfunctional, but I don’t think many would question the long-term stability of our form of government itself. Maybe we should start to do that. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been doing a decent job of protecting consumers and reducing the risk of another financial crisis. The person in charge of it now was put there specifically to ruin it. Something similar may be about to happen at the Census Bureau. A U.S. Constitutional Convention is actually a possibility, and might threaten the stability of the nation.

Most hopeful stories of 2017:

Most interesting stories that weren’t particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • January: Apple, Google, and Facebook may destroy the telecom industry.
  • February: The idea of growing human organs inside a pig, or even a viable human-pig hybrid, is getting very closeTiny brains can also be grown on a microchip. Bringing back extinct animals is also getting very close.
  • March: Bill Gates has proposed a “robot tax”. The basic idea is that if and when automation starts to increase productivity, you could tax the increase in profits and use the money to help any workers displaced by the automation. In related somewhat boring economic news, there are a variety of theories as to why a raise in the minimum wage does not appear to cause unemployment as classical economic theory would predict.
  • April: I finished reading Rainbow’s End, a fantastic Vernor Vinge novel about augmented reality in the near future, among other things.
  • May: The sex robots are here.
  • June: “Fleur de lawn” is a mix of perennial rye, hard fescue, micro clover, yarrow, Achillea millefolium, sweet alyssum, Lobularia maritima, baby blue eyes, Nemophila menziesi, English daisy, Bellis perennis, and O’Connor’s strawberry clover, Trifolium fragiferum.
  • July: Ecologists have some new ideas for measuring resilience of ecosystems. Technologists have some wild ideas to have robots directly counteract the effects of humans on ecosystems. I like ideas – how do I get a (well-compensated) job where I can just sit around and think up ideas?
  • August: Elon Musk has thrown his energy into deep tunneling technology.
  • September: I learned that the OECD Science, Technology and Innovation Outlook named “ten key emerging technology trends”: The Internet of Things, Big data analytics, Artificial intelligence, Neurotechnologies, Nano/microsatellites, Nanomaterials, Additive manufacturing / 3D printing, Advanced energy storage technologies, Synthetic biology, Blockchain
  • October: Even if autonomous trucks are not ready for tricky urban situations, they could be autonomous on the highway with a small number of remote-control drivers guiding a large number of tricks through tricky urban maneuvers, not unlike the way ports or trainyards are run now. There is also new thinking on how to transition highways gradually through a mix of human and computer-controlled vehicles, and eventually to full computer control. New research shows that even a small number of autonomous vehicles mixed in with human drivers will be safer for everyone. While some reports predict autonomous taxis will be available in the 2020s, Google says that number is more like 2017.
  • November: It’s possible that the kind of ideal planned economy envisioned by early Soviet economists (which never came to pass) could be realized with the computing power and algorithms just beginning to be available now.
  • DecemberMicrosoft is trying to one-up Google Scholar, which is good for researchers. More computing firepower is being focused on making sense of all the scientific papers out there.

I’ll keep this on the short side. Here are a few trends I see:

Risk of War. I think I said about a year ago that if we could through the next four years without a world war or nuclear detonation, we will be doing well. Well, one year down and three to go. That’s the bright side. The dark side is that it is time to acknowledge there is a regional war going on in the Middle East. It could escalate, it could go nuclear, and it could result in military confrontation between the United States and Russia. Likewise, the situation in North Korea could turn into a regional conflict, could go nuclear, and could lead to military confrontation between the United States and China.

Decline…and Fall? A question on my mind is whether the United States is a nation in decline, and I think the surprisingly obvious answer is yes. The more important question is whether it is a temporary dip, or the beginning of a decline and fall.

Risk of Financial Crisis. The risk of another serious financial crisis is even scarier that war in some ways, at least a limited, non-nuclear war. Surprisingly, the economic effects can be more severe, more widespread and longer lasting. We are seeing the continued weakening of regulations attempting to limit systemic risk-taking for short-term gain. Without a pickup in long-term productivity growth and with the demographic and ecological headwinds that we face, another crisis equal to or worse than the 2007 one could be the one that we don’t recover from.

Ecological Collapse? The story about vanishing insects was eye-opening to me. Could global ecosystems go into a freefall? Could populous regions of the world face a catastrophic food shortage? It is hard to imagine these things coming to a head in the near term, but the world needs to take these risks seriously since the consequences would be so great.

Technology. With everything else going on, technology just marches forward, of course. One technology I find particularly interesting is new approaches to research that mine and attempt to synthesize large bodies of scientific research.

Can the human species implement good ideas? Solutions exist. I would love to end on a positive note, but at the moment I find myself questioning whether our particular species of hairless ape can implement them.

But – how’s this for ending on a positive note – like I said at the beginning, the one thing about 2017 that definitely didn’t suck was that we didn’t get blown up!

BIODIVERSITY AND ECOSYSTEM SERVICES IN URBAN GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE PLANNING

I like this article from Italy a lot because it represents a practical approach to focusing on ecosystem services in urban areas.

BIODIVERSITY AND ECOSYSTEM SERVICES IN URBAN GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE PLANNING: A CASE STUDY FROM THE METROPOLITAN AREA OF ROME (ITALY)

Target 2 of the European Biodiversity Strategy promotes the maintenance and enhancement of ecosystem services < (ES) as well as the restoration of at least 15% of degraded ecosystems by creating green infrastructure (GI). The purpose of the this research is to present a GI proposal that combines the delivery of regulating services with the restoration and ecological reconnection of urban forests and trees in a densely urbanised context.

The project area covers about 3 000 ha in the urban sector of the metropolitan area of Rome and the GI components consist of 533 ha of areal green spaces and of more than 500 km of road verges. Planned interventions include forest restoration and tree plantations, with a varying service supply according to type and condition of the different components. Potential natural vegetation (PNV) models and dispersal potential of representative forest species, together with structural and functional vegetation models for the enhancement of air pollutants removal, guided the selection of the species to be promoted and of the planting pattern. Environmental benefits of the proposal include more than 30 ha of restored urban forests, about 15 000 planted individuals of native oaks, a sevenfold improvement in ecological connectivity and halved isolation between green spaces. On the other hand, the expected socio-economic benefits include almost 300 000 potential beneficiaries of the improved air quality and avoided costs for damages to human health that range between 40 700 and 130 200 EUR per year.

Notwithstanding their preliminary character, these estimates allowed the proposal to highlight the relationship between GI and public health. Moreover, they showed the economic and social effectiveness of nature-based solutions in comparison with further development of grey infrastructure. These results promote the definition of a national GI strategy in Italy.