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Urban Ecology

Author(s): Kelly O'Donnell

Science Forward

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This video describes the field of urban ecology and features scientists who use the city as their field site.

Licensed under CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International according to these terms

Version 1.0 - published on 24 Jul 2018 doi:10.25334/Q4XH7J - cite this


What would you consider to be “natural”?  How does the environment affect humans, and how do humans affect the environment?  When we think about nature and biodiversity, we often think about faraway and “untouched” places.  But when we look at humans as part of the environment, as one of many organisms in complicated systems, new ideas and new questions become possible.

We’ll hear about studying both the wildlife and the human life of our urban green spaces and we’ll focus on how humans are an influential part of the urban ecosystem.

Science Senses:

Data Sense

  • Collecting data
  • Choosing a representative sample

Knowledge Sense

  • Asking scientific questions based on observations
  • Applying scientific knowledge

Classroom Ideas:

  • Grant writing competition – Assign students a short journal article that describes an ecological experiment. In class, have students work in groups to propose a follow up experiment or a different experiment on a related question. Students must propose methods and generate hypotheses. They then present their proposal to the class and the class votes on which study to fund. (KS – asking questions, designing experiments, communicating science, DS – collecting data, choosing a representative sample )
  • Ecosystem Services Estimates – How much would you (or a government) pay for some service that you (or the city) get for free from an intact ecosystem? (NS – making a back of the envelope estimate)
  • Ecosystem Services vs. Hot Spots Debate – Have students discuss the merits of each conservation strategy (or other conservation strategies). Which is more likely to garner public support and why? (KS – communicating science, applying scientific knowledge)

Possible Readings:

  • OpenStax. 2016. Chapter 44: Ecology and the Biosphere from OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax. OER
  • Helden and Leather. 2004. Biodiversity on urban roundabouts—Hemiptera, management and the species–area relationship. Basic and Applied Ecology. 5:367-377.
  • Costanza et al. 1997. The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature. 387:253-260.

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