Connecting to nature and understanding ecosystem services: the urban perspective

Food and water – two resources vital for life on Earth. These are two prime examples of the products that arise from ecosystem services. There are four broad categories of ecosystem services: provisioning regulating, supporting, and cultural. Food and water are a form of ecosystem service provisioning – these are the products that directly benefit humans. Globalization and climate change are increasingly threatening food and water security, and other vital ecosystem services throughout the world.

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Fat and happy in the city

Wildlife may not always struggle when living in the city. For example, many birds and mammals benefit from access to human food and in some cases, encounter fewer predators in the city. Learning more about how wildlife deals with life in the city can help us learn what features of the city benefit or harm different species. Eastern chipmunks are abundant in both forest and urban habitats making them a suitable species to study to determine whether populations living in the city do better or worse. Researchers found that chipmunks in the city were fatter than forest chipmunks and less stressed, highlighting how some animals can thrive because of urbanization.

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Of feces and fertilizer: residential sources of urban water pollutants

Excess nutrients from pet waste and lawn fertilizer contribute to degraded water quality in cities. Due to the widely dispersed nature of these pollutants in residential areas, decisions made at the household level can go a long way towards solving—or exacerbating—water quality problems.

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Urban Environmental Science – why is it important and what is the big deal?

But let’s think about it. Over 50% of the global population currently resides in cities. Cities are seen as opportunity havens and projections suggest the global population living in cities will surpass 60% by 2050 (UN 2016). That’s a lot of people living on a relatively small area of land. Traditionally, we have created sanitary cities where the objective was to remove waste through engineered infrastructure (think sewers) and move water along controlled waterways (think channelized or buried streams). Nowadays, we are understanding the value of green areas in cities and are moving towards studying the urban environment to improve city design and make it more sustainable.

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