Urban Ecosystems

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 79-93

First online:

Urban soil ecology as a focal point for environmental education

  • E. A. JohnsonAffiliated withCenter for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History Email author 
  • , K. M. CatleyAffiliated withWestern Carolina University

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Direct contact with the natural world is an essential element of environmental education and a key to developing environmental literacy and a stewardship ethic. But providing this experience can be challenging in urban environments where many people believe nature only occurs “outside” the city, and urban biota are often unwelcome and perceived in negative terms. Since 80% of the United States’ population lives in or near urban areas, conservation educators and practitioners need to find ways to make nature accessible to this audience, thereby creating a public who can make informed decisions about environmental issues. Soil systems are an important, under-utilized resource for urban environmental education. Soils are ubiquitous and thus easily accessible and their communities can be effective focal points for introducing all levels of ecology, from populations to ecosystems. Soil and litter taxa are also intrinsically interesting, with discoveries of new species still being made in urban areas. By studying urban soil systems, students can develop an enhanced sense of place and an appreciation of the natural world and their connection to it thereby strengthening environmental stewardship. An important role exists for urban ecologists to work with educators to impart enthusiasm for and to augment educators’ understanding of soil systems.


Urban soils Environmental education Sustainability Biodiversity Soil biology