Urban Ecosystems

, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 185-199

First online:

A conceptual framework for the study of human ecosystems in urban areas

  • Steward T. A. PickettAffiliated withInstitute of Ecosystem Studies
  • , William R. BurchJr.Affiliated withSchool of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University
  • , Shawn E. DaltonAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Maryland Baltimore County
  • , Timothy W. ForesmanAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Maryland Baltimore County
  • , J. Morgan GroveAffiliated withUSDA Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station
  • , Rowan RowntreeAffiliated withUSDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station

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The need for integrated concepts, capable of satisfying natural and social scientists and supporting integrated research, motivates a conceptual framework for understanding the role of humans in ecosystems. The question is how to add humans to the ecological models used to understand urban ecosystems. The ecosystem concept can serve as the basis, but specific social attributes of humans and their institutions must be added. Learning and feedback between the human and natural components of urban ecosystems are key attributes of the integrated model. Parallels with familiar ecological approaches can help in understanding the ecology of urban ecosystems. These include the role of spatial heterogeneity and organizational hierarchies in both the social and natural components of urban ecosystems. Although urban watersheds are commonly highly altered, the watershed approach can serve as a spatial basis for organizing comparative studies of ecosystems exhibiting differing degrees of urbanization. The watershed concept can also spatially organize the hierarchically scaled linkages by which the integrated human ecosystem model can be applied. The study of urban ecosystems is a relatively new field, and the questions suggested by the integrated framework can be used to frame ecosystem research in and associated with urban and metropolitan areas.

urban ecosystems human ecology human ecosystem patch dynamics gradient analysis