2014 Environmental Hands-On Research Course
Urban and suburban regions represent one of the fastest-growing types of “ecosystems” on earth. In the United States, the amount of urbanized land increased by almost 50 percent between 1982 and 1997. More than 80 percent of the US population now lives in urban and suburban areas.
For many decades, ecologists largely ignored urban areas. That has changed. The study of urban and suburban areas as ecosystems with interacting urban and natural components has increased dramatically in the last 20 years. Urban ecosystems present a unique and difficult challenge to environmental scientists. For one, they are highly managed by people, so an understanding of ecological processes requires understanding human actions and motivations. In addition, they are extremely heterogeneous at small scales (for example, the scale of house lots), which complicates study.
The Baltimore Ecosystem Study has pioneered study of cities as ecosystems. It is one of 26 sites in the National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) research network and one of two sites (with Phoenix) focused on urban areas. It examines how human actions have shaped the ecological functioning of the city and how that functioning has changed over time.
We will use the Baltimore Ecosystem Study as a laboratory for examining how urban areas influence stream water quality, how residential development shapes plant communities, how our fondness for lawns affects a region’s carbon stocks, and how emerging remote sensing technology can detect detailed patterns and changes of a city’s structure over time.