An increasingly prevalent part of applied ecology, urban ecosystems provide us with both new challenges and opportunities to make the most of the natural resources around us. In a new Virtual Issue, Executive Editor Marc Cadotte brings together some of the recent research published in the journal that aims to bring environmental benefits to our cities’ inhabitants. The articles are free to read for a limited time.
Spurred by the massive movement of people from rural areas over the past 50 years, cities are the fastest growing habitat type on Earth. Urban areas are unique places, with no precedent in Earth’s geological history. They represent a complete change in the geological, environmental and biological norms, and further serve to remove the human experience from nature.
Many cities have little room for nature and, where it does exist, it is often only appreciated in particular forms. At the same time, the urban environment itself comes with a series of environmental changes that can be harmful or stressful for some organisms while providing opportunities for others. Many of the species which do thrive are exotics that find suitable conditions and a lack of competitors and predators in cities – but thriving species can have negative consequences too. Meanwhile the pressures and stresses are too great for many species, which subsequently do not succeed in urban areas. On balance, we generally see urban landscapes as detrimental to ecological systems. However, instead of throwing up our hands and accepting that certain types of species cannot coexist with us in cities, we should see these species as a challenge – a challenge with rich rewards. If we can maintain high levels of species diversity in cities, they can not only be vehicles for species conservation but also help us to maintain ecological integrity – meaning that we realise a number of other environmental benefits.
Cities are the place where ecological theory is desperately needed if it is to have value in managing the most heavily impacted spaces on Earth. The papers included in this Virtual Issue take different approaches, focus on different systems and different levels of biological organisation (from individuals to ecosystems), but they all assess how cities impact nature. More importantly, they all provide avenues to managing nature in cities. The premise for managing urban nature is not only the beauty of coexisting with natural surroundings, but in the ways people benefit from the nature that exists around them. There is hope that the city of the future can be a place where environmental benefits are provided to residents, and the work in this selection of articles provides the route to get there.