Urban ecology study witnessing the birth of a 'designer ecosystem'

When Arizona State University's Central Arizona-Phoenix Long Term Ecological Research Project (CAP LTER) was funded by the National Science Foundation in 1997, more than 50 scientists signed on to do the multidisciplinary research knowing that they were embarking on something unusual the first ever long-term ecological study of "a human-dominated ecosystem," aka, a city.

Seven years later, the first phase of the research has been completed and NSF has renewed the project with a second grant of $4.9 million for six more years of study, indicating the agency's satisfaction with the research's accomplishments. The long-term study has made more than just a good start, however -- the project has produced results that may transform the study of ecology.

After seven years, the project scientists are increasingly convinced that they are looking at a new kind of ecosystem an ecosystem that is radically different from the native desert that surrounds it and driven in part by forces unlike those usually studied by ecologists.

"It's not what people generally think they think there's either nature or there are cities," said Charles Redman, director of ASU's Center for Environmental Studies, and one of the project's principal investigators. "That's what this is all about there is nature in the city. The city is part of nature."

Along with their partner LTER in Baltimore, the development of urban LTERs was considered a major leap forward in the field of ecology both because they included human culture as a "driver" of and "responder" to -- the ecosystem being studied, and also because the research would include studies far outside traditional ecology or even the biosciences, climatology and earth sciences: sociology, anthropology, engineering, and economics.

Phoenix as chosen as one of the two urban LTER sites because it is a fast growing desert city, like many of the world's emerging cities, with an archeological record for the area

Contact: James Hathaway
Arizona State University

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