Scientists tackle ecology of cities

Santa Barbara, CA - The complicated, messy and uncharted ecosystems of cities are finally getting their due, as scientists plunge into the study of how they work, according to the publication of a leading group of ecologists.

"A New Urban Ecology," published in the September/October issue of American Scientist, explores the idea that the study of ecosystems of cities is just as important a pursuit as analysis of "pristine" ecosystems found far from human activity, which until now have been the main areas for the study of ecology. In fact, the authors assert that the study of the ecology of cities is urgent and long overdue.

The article raises many questions. Elizabeth T. Borer, graduate student in biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and a co-author, called it a "challenge" paper asking for an entire rethinking of the role of humans in the field of ecology.

"Should humans be accountable for our influence?" she questioned.

She explained that the study of the ecology of cities raises such important but thorny issues as "Do we need to be stewards of the environment of cities, or are we just another species?"

The article resulted from meetings and research by a group of scientists working under the umbrella of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), a think tank affiliated with the University of California, Santa Barbara and funded by the National Science Foundation.

The authors note that only .4 percent of all the 6,157 papers published in the nine leading ecology journals in the past five years dealt with cities or urban species. Up until now, said Borer, humans were considered a "disturbance" in a natural system.

Yet, they point out, "Cities are some of the most profoundly altered ecosystems on the planet; within their boundaries are also found some of the most diverse ecological conditions. If there is a laboratory where ecological change can be viewed at cl

Contact: Gail Brown
University of California - Santa Barbara

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