Ecology of Urban Environments

parrisRating: ★★★★★

Kirsten M Parris. 2015. Ecology of Urban Environments. Wiley. ISBN978 1 4443 3265 0

There was a time not long ago when an urban environment was something that destroyed natural systems. This might very well have been the truth then, as well as today, but the focus has changed with an increasing number of books devoted to the relatively new science of urban ecology. The focus is generally on how natural systems adapt to urban settings. There’s also the idea that they represent totally new physical settings and that they should be seen an habitats in their own right. Not unreasonable given the value of certain London bombsites for wildflower conservation.

This re-evaluation of urban areas as, essentially, pristine abiotic environments has led to an upsurge in urban ecology research and writing. The aim of this text is to provide, in a relatively slim volume, an introductory grounding in urban ecology, tying urban areas to ecological theory.

The opening chapter argues the case for urban ecology – the extensive nature of urban areas, their ecological value, their use as ecology labs, areas of wellbeing (tying nature and health together) and the increasing value of urban areas for conservation. The aim is to generate interest in the reader but it does highlight why this area of study has grown so quickly in recent years.

One of the issues with some early texts in urban ecology was the difficulty found in trying to link applied study (urban) into more theoretical ecology. Here, the author has gone out of her way to focus on this issue. For example, rather than focus on the habitats offered by urban areas, she considers how common urban practices can be seen as having natural counterparts e.g. habitat loss (buildings), hydrological alterations (hard surfaces, drainage) etc. This immediately draws the reader into considering those mundane urban services as having ecological impact (whether major, like urbanisation, or minor, like light regimes). Rather than see urban areas as a loss, the author goes on to consider how population, communities and ecosystems respond to the increase in urban areas. Studies of plant and animal invasions of our towns and cities show how organisms can rapidly exploit unused habitat/niches. Work on trophic interactions shows how species can combine in different populations in urban areas (“winners and losers“). When we consider the ecosystem scale, changes are more on the physical side with changes to biogeochemical cycles and water movement. Of course, urban areas are mainly places for people and so a chapter is devoted to this ecological perspective. CitiesĀ  as creators of greenspace, crime and health issues shows that it’s not just the natural environment that can be affected by urban living.

The two final chapters explore the way that urban areas offer conservation potential with many buildings being human examples of cliffs etc. The central point here is that is relatively easy to start a nature reserve or conserve species. In fact, recent work on green cities highlights one of the great benefits of wildlife in urban places. A final chapter argues for a more comprehensive definition of urban ecology and a more rigorous use of the limited areas that cities, in particular, give us.

Any initial worries about the text being able to give a decent account of ecological theory and practice are rapidly overcome by the clarity of ideas and the structure of the book. Each chapter is not particularly long but it’s packed with key ideas. There’s also a massive index at the conclusion of each chapter making it very easy to chase ideas and study ecological changes. The text is accessible to a range of readers who will find great interest in looking at the diversity of ideas common to modern urban ecology. It’s an ideal fieldwork source for those wanting or needing to study urban ecology and link theory and practice. Overall, one of the best introductions to the subject – definitely one to put on the must-read list.

Leave A Comment