Urban ecology


Urban ecology is the scientific study of the relation of living organisms with each other and their surroundings in the context of an urban environment. The urban environment refers to environments dominated by high-density residential and commercial buildings, paved surfaces, and other urban-related factors that create a unique landscape dissimilar to most previously studied environments in the field of ecology.
Urban ecology is a recent field of study compared to ecology as a whole. The methods and studies of urban ecology are similar to and comprise a subset of ecology. The study of urban ecology carries increasing importance because more than 50% of the world's population today lives in urban areas. At the same time, it is estimated that within the next forty years, two-thirds of the world's population will be living in expanding urban centers. The ecological processes in the urban environment are comparable to those outside the urban context. However, the types of urban habitats and the species that inhabit them are poorly documented. Often, explanations for phenomena examined in the urban setting as well as predicting changes because of urbanization are the center for scientific research.
Chemical techniques may be used to determine pollutant concentrations and their effects. Tests can be as simple as dipping a manufactured test strip, as in the case of pH testing, or be more complex, as in the case of examining the spatial and temporal variation of heavy metal contamination due to industrial runoff. In that particular study, livers of birds from many regions of the North Sea were ground up and mercury was extracted. Additionally, mercury bound in feathers was extracted from both live birds and from museum specimens to test for mercury levels across many decades. Through these two different measurements, researchers were able to make a complex picture of the spread of mercury due to industrial runoff both spatially and temporally.
Remote sensing is the technique in which data is collected from distant locations through the use of satellite imaging, radar, and aerial photographs. In urban ecology, remote sensing is used to collect data about terrain, weather patterns, light, and vegetation. One application of remote sensing for urban ecology is to detect the productivity of an area by measuring the photosynthetic wavelengths of emitted light. Satellite images can also be used to detect differences in temperature and landscape diversity to detect the effects of urbanization.
Humans place high demand on land not only to build urban centers, but also to build surrounding suburban areas for housing. Land is also allocated for agriculture to sustain the growing population of the city. Expanding cities and suburban areas necessitate corresponding deforestation to meet the land-use and resource requirements of urbanization. Key examples of this are Deforestation in the United States and Brazil.
Both local shipping and long-distance trade are required to meet the resource demands important in maintaining urban areas. Carbon dioxide emissions from the transport of goods also contribute to accumulating greenhouse gases and nutrient deposits in the soil and air of urban environments. In addition, shipping facilitates the unintentional spread of living organisms, and introduces them to environments that they would not naturally inhabit. Introduced or alien species are populations of organisms living in a range in which they did not naturally evolve due to intentional or inadvertent human activity. Increased transportation between urban centers furthers the incidental movement of animal and plant species. Alien species often have no natural predators and pose a substantial threat to the dynamics of existing ecological populations in the new environment where they are introduced. Such invasive species are numerous and include house sparrows, ring-necked pheasants, European starlings, brown rats, Asian carp, American bullfrogs, emerald ash borer, kudzu vines, and zebra mussels among numerous others, most notably domesticated animals. In Australia, it has been found that removing Lantana (L. camara, an alien species) from urban greenspaces can surprisingly have negative impacts on bird diversity locally, as it provides refugia for species like the superb fairy (Malurus cyaneus) and silvereye (Zosterops lateralis), in the absence of native plant equivalents . Although, there seems to be a density threshold in which too much Lantana (thus homogeneity in vegetation cover) can lead to a decrease in bird species richness or abundance .