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Back in the classroom, they can try to identify some of the plants and animals and fungi that they saw and heard, or discovered evidence of, and consider how they fit into the urban ecosystem. They can also try to relate the micro-environment of their spot to the bigger processes of the natural world climate, biological diversity, water cycle, etc. Here are some links to online "field guides" that students can use to identify specimens:.

Many other links, including some state and regional online field guides, may be found at the site called The Internet. See the Tool. See the Collection. See the Lesson. Photo Credit: Science NetLinks. Because dark surfaces like pavements store heat during the day, which is released at night, they keep cities hotter for longer periods of time.

Are there local heat islands in your schoolyard? What color is the roof of the school? The parking lot?


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While you are talking about how dark colors absorb and light colors reflect solar radiation, you might introduce the idea that physics is employed by the field of architecture known as green design. Green design takes advantage of some of the fundamental laws of physics in order to minimize the energy that is required to heat and cool buildings and otherwise power our lifestyle. The Green Design website has some excellent links that students may wish to follow to learn more about energy efficiency in home lighting, computers, and other appliances.

Did you find this resource helpful? Other Lessons in This Series 1. A Historical Perspective 3. Urban Ecosystems 3: Cities as Population Centers 4. Urban Ecosystems 4: Metabolism of Urban Ecosystems 5. Urban Ecosystems 5: In Defense of Cities. Have you tried this lesson?

Share your tips. All rights reserved. Latin Scholar 1: "Come on Augustus! We've got to come up with a word to describe this big group of houses, temples, markets, roads and common baths. That's IT! It's short, easy to pronounce, and…" LS2: "Um, Romulus… you spelled it wrong. Let's get out of here! Take your students to the Night Lights Around the World website to see a composite image of the world at night as well as images of North America and Europe. Ask them to comment on where the urban ecosystems are in relation to coastlines, large rivers, deserts, mountain ranges, rain forests, tundra, ice caps, and other physical features of the planet.

By the way, while the students are gazing at these amazing images, call their attention to how bright the U. These kinds of light bulbs have been described as small, electric space heaters that happen to give off a little light. This study aims to understand metropolitan Baltimore as an ecological system by bringing together researchers from the biological, physical, and social sciences. These people are collecting new information—and analyzing and synthesizing existing information—on how the "built" and wild ecosystems of Baltimore work.

As a part of the National Science Foundation's Long-Term Ecological Research Network, the researchers also seek to understand how Baltimore's ecosystems change over long time periods. Divide your class into teams and have the teams study selected research and education projects described on the website and report out to the class. Ask questions such as the following: How are the different scientists involving history in their work?

Are there any research findings that you think your local Mayor and the City Council should know about? What is the difference between a research finding and an action recommendation? Complexity Cues As the number of parts of a system increases, the number of possible interactions between pairs of parts increases much more rapidly. Have your class try to come up with the features of urban ecosystems that make them so complex and unpredictable and discuss how these might have changed or might change over time.

Some suggestions include: Water cycles and extremes such as floods and droughts think pavement, runoff… Nutrient cycles such as nitrogen and phosphorus think fertilizer, dog and other animal droppings, etc. Energy flow through natural and human food webs think grass clippings, autumn leaves, auto fuel, etc. Geographic and climate setting Formal and informal political arrangements Administrative hierarchies The division of labor The interaction of different professions Modern and ancient technologies Communications such as person-to-person, and others such as signs, radios, etc.

Spiritual influences Race and ethnicity Immigrant populations Gender relations Domesticated animals and pets Invasive species Military defenses present and past Economic power and influence. A Micro-Hike Issue one-meter pieces of string to individuals or teams of students.


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Outside, have them toss their strings on the ground. If magnifying glasses are available, they should use them. Have the students follow along their string, trying to locate several scenic sights and possibly even diminutive wildlife specimens. The students then become trail guides, showing the sights to "tourists" from other teams.

Cities are open systems with high dependency on their hinterlands, which range from local, regional to global. The level of self-sufficiency or external dependency can be an important indicator to understand the resilience of an urban system. The external dependency of cities can be reduced and self-sufficiency be enhanced by effectively mobilizing the resources stocked or flowing through the city. As species abundance in cities is known to be heavily influenced by human-subsidized biogeochemical flows DeStefano and DeGraaf , enhanced self-sufficiency may have ecosystem consequences both within the city and along urban rural gradients.

Therefore, to better inform policy and practice, an integrated research approach that links urban material and energy flows to ecosystem consequences is needed. Spatial heterogeneity is an important concept in studying urban systems, and plays important roles in the functioning of ecological systems in general Grimm et al. So far studies on spatial heterogeneity are mostly focused on land use Cadenasso et al. In the urban metabolism literature, spatial heterogeneity is studied with the motivation to better inform the location of potential resources see for example Kapur and Graedel , or the relationship between spatial structure of cities on metabolism, with the motivation to identify planning implications but with mixed findings Baker et al.

Increasing attention is being paid to social economic heterogeneity, i.

Urban ecosystems research joins mainstream ecology | Nature

Evidence shows that there is intra-system homogeneity in developed cities within the same region especially when embodied flows are taken into account Minx et al. Much larger intra-city heterogeneity is observed in some developing cities Lin et al. Combining the two groups of literature together will enable a more comprehensive understanding of urban system heterogeneity, by adding more layers and opening up the potential to study interrelations among specific heterogeneities.

Cities are dynamic and evolving systems, and understanding the processes and mechanisms of changing systems and their environment and ecosystem consequences are one of the key tasks of urban research. Most flow budgets and intensity show an increasing trend over time Warren-Rhodes and Koenig ; Kennedy et al. The magnitude of the flows varies according to the development stages of cities.

Building resilient cities by restoring connectivity in urban ecosystems - Andrew Gonzalez

Income level determines the level of housing stocks across different cities in China, Norway, and the Netherlands Hu et al. There are large intercity disparities Kennedy et al. Intercity variation can be driven by functional differences, urban planning and management, and socioeconomic factors Li et al. Understanding the biophysical and social mechanisms behind resource distribution is a common aspiration for urban ecosystem studies and urban metabolism studies Batty ; Pickett et al.

Urban policy and governance practices can play significant role in shaping and regulating the metabolism Heynen et al. Some cities attempt to actively regulate urban metabolism, e. On the one hand, it is important to note that such regulating capacity of cities are not without limit, due to the temporal, spatial, and institutional scale mismatches between urban management and the global extent of the flows Bai et al.

On the other hand, narrowly focused policy actions on reducing pollution alone may lead to the relocation of energy intensive and polluting industries outside of the city and into ecologically fragile areas Bai et al.

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Such self-regulating capacity through urban governance is a unique and important feature of urban ecosystems, which can be a powerful leverage to shift the system towards sustainability. More conceptual and empirical work is needed to better understand this feature of urban ecosystems. This study aims to seek a conceptual common ground between the urban metabolism studies and urban ecosystem studies. As demonstrated in this paper, while the conceptual starting points are very different, the two research communities share many common aspirations and foci, and are not exclusive.

They can ask common questions and it is mutually beneficial and indeed possible to develop intellectual linkages. Important urban ecosystem insights, such as the eight key characteristics of urban ecosystems presented in this paper, that can be derived from urban metabolism studies, which in turn can be of significance for both urban ecology and industrial ecology communities.

There are varying degrees of research coverage on these eight key aspects. Much less is known of the behaviour of these eight key aspects in relation to each other, and in relation to ecological processes in urban system, which can be important future research focus. Integrating plural concepts, theories, and approaches will help inform theoretical development around cities as unique ecosystems.

This is recognized by both urban metabolism and urban ecosystem communities, and there are some efforts to achieve broader integration including these two communities. For example, the social-ecological-infrastructure systems framework presented by Ramaswami et al. But such recognition and effort are not necessarily linked to concrete actions such as closely examining and cross-referencing advances from the other community.

As shown in this paper, significant ecological insight can be, or has the potential to be, drawn from the rich and rapidly growing empirical findings of urban metabolism studies to understand the behaviour of cities as human-dominated, complex systems. Better integration will require some conscious efforts from both communities. To realize its full potential, urban metabolism studies need to be more conscious of the conceptual and theoretical development of urban systems studies. Meanwhile, it perhaps is time for urban ecosystem study to expand from human influenced ecological process to include the purely anthropogenic materials and energy flows as its key area of study.

While similar argument was put forward previously Grimm et al. A stronger integration of the two communities is not a purpose in itself, but a starting point of exploring new conceptual, theoretical, and empirical understanding of urban systems beyond the two communities. For example, how the material and energy flow efficiency of urban ecosystem, and associated policy measures targeting, interact with other urban system attributes such as resilience?

A better intellectual linkage between urban energy and material flows and ecological processes has important policy implications. Such finding does not deny the many other benefits of an urban park, e. Likewise, policies solely focusing on reducing urban energy and material flows and improving self-dependency may have unintended ecosystem impacts within and along the urban—rural gradient by altering current nutrient and energy subsidence structure.

With unprecedented urbanization and associated landscape, economic, social, and cultural changes anticipated in developing world Bai et al. A better understanding of the interactions between anthropogenic material and energy flows and ecosystem processes can help reduce unintended consequences of narrowly focused policy and management decisions.

The author would like to thank Clive Hilliker for his assistance in graphics, Stephen Dovers, Rob Dyball, Nancy Grimm, and three anonymous reviewers and Associate Editor Erik Andersson for their helpful discussions, comments, and suggestions on an earlier version. Her research focuses on the drivers and impacts of urbanization, urban system performance, dynamics and evolution, urban environmental management, cities and climate change, and sustainability of cities and beyond.

National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Journal List Ambio v.

Published online May Xuemei Bai. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Xuemei Bai, Email: ua. Corresponding author. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract Recent decades have seen an expanding literature exploring urban energy and material flows, loosely branded as urban metabolism analysis. Keywords: Urban metabolism, Urban ecosystem, Energy and material flows, Cross pollination, Integrated urban theory. Cities as unique ecosystem Cities are ecosystems, but they are very different from natural ecosystems.

Open in a separate window. Urban ecosystem and urban metabolism: Irreconcilable approaches? Eight material and energy characteristics of cities Recent urban metabolism studies have extended far beyond the original approach to quantify the flow budget, and started to reveal important characteristics of urban system features and interactions. Characteristics of urban ecosystem Key questions Sustainability goals Level of empirical evidences Material and energy budget and pathway What type, how much total flows, and via what pathways?

What are the global impacts of such flows? How much is exported? How long does the inflow material stay within the system? How different cities bench mark against each other? Material and energy budget and pathway Understanding biogeochemical budgets of ecosystems, in particular nutrients such as carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus, has been one of the crucial elements of urban ecology Pickett et al. Material and energy intensity Energy and material flow intensities, which is often measured by per area or per capita in the case of cities, are important indicators for an ecosystem.

Self-sufficiency versus external dependency Cities are open systems with high dependency on their hinterlands, which range from local, regional to global. Intra-system heterogeneity Spatial heterogeneity is an important concept in studying urban systems, and plays important roles in the functioning of ecological systems in general Grimm et al. Temporal and intercity variation Cities are dynamic and evolving systems, and understanding the processes and mechanisms of changing systems and their environment and ecosystem consequences are one of the key tasks of urban research.

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Understanding Urban Ecosystems

Regulating capacity Understanding the biophysical and social mechanisms behind resource distribution is a common aspiration for urban ecosystem studies and urban metabolism studies Batty ; Pickett et al. Concluding remarks This study aims to seek a conceptual common ground between the urban metabolism studies and urban ecosystem studies. Acknowledgments The author would like to thank Clive Hilliker for his assistance in graphics, Stephen Dovers, Rob Dyball, Nancy Grimm, and three anonymous reviewers and Associate Editor Erik Andersson for their helpful discussions, comments, and suggestions on an earlier version.

Harvesting urban resources towards more resilient cities. Resources, Conservation and Recycling. The effects of urban patterns on ecosystem function.

Differences in design

International Regional Science Review. Integrating humans into ecology: Opportunities and challenges for studying urban ecosystems. Urban landscapes and sustainable cities. Ecology and Society. The Journal of Urban Technology. Metabolism of the anthroposphere. Berlin: Springer-Verlag; Industrial ecology and the global impacts of cities. Journal of Industrial Ecology. Urban policy and governance in a global environment: Complex systems, scale mismatches and public participation.

Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. Urban ecology and industrial ecology. Handbook of urban ecology. London: Routledge; The size, scale, and shape of cities. Circular urban metabolism in Stockholm. Washington, DC: Worldwatch Institute; Ecosystem services in urban areas. Ecological Economics. Ecology of a city and its people: The case of Hong Kong. Canberra: Australian National University; Interdisciplinary perspectives on urban metabolism. Assessment of total urban metabolism and metabolic inefficiency in an Irish city-region.

Understanding Urban Ecosystems: A New Frontier for Science and Education / Edition 1

Waste Management. Material flow accounting in an Irish city-region — Journal of Cleaner Production. Skip to Organizational Offices. Skip to Bottom Navigation. A social ecology approach to understanding urban ecosystems and landscapes. Morgan Grove. Description The shape and dynamics of cities are the result of physical, biological, and social forces. We include the term dynamic to emphasize that cities change over time and are the result of both idiosyncratic events and dominant trends. To begin to understand the patterns and processes of cities, we approach the idiosyncratic and dominant - whether it is physical, biological, or social - within an historic context.