Urban Ecology

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The expansion of suburbs has changed the face of large regions of North America. These novel ecosystems are an interesting mixture of lands in which people strongly influence both the vegetation structure and the ecosystem functioning of lawns, yards and backyard patches of remaining native ecosystems. I am part of a team that is investigating the idea that suburbanization "homogenizes" suburban ecosystems across the US by making all suburban ecosystems more like each other than they are like the native ecosystems from which they were derived. I am looking at this question in and around Boston. This project, which we call, "The Ecological Homogenization of Urban America," has teams from Baltimore, Miami, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Phoenix, all working under an NSF Macrosystems Biology grant. It began fieldwork in 2012 and is led by Peter Groffman at the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies. Each location compares suburban residential areas with nearby native ecosystems. The project examines effects on microclimate, plant species and cover, nitrogen and carbon stocks and cycling rates in lawns, and the structure of stream drainage networks.

Jehane Samaha, Emma Dixon and Elisabeth Ward

Jehane Samaha, Emma Dixon and Elisabeth Ward


Emma Dixon, Elisabeth Ward, Jehane Samaha, Richard McHorney, Pamela Polloni, Roberta Lombardi


Riskin, S.H., S, Porder, M. E. Schipanski, E. M. Bennett, and C, Neill. 2013. Regional Differences in Phosphorus Budgets in Intensive Soybean Agriculture. BioScience 63: 49–54.

Links to our proposal are available on the project website.

A recent article from the NY Times Magazine on the project, written by 2012 MBL Science Journalism Program Fellow Maggie Koerth-Baker.

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