The Urban Funnel Model and the Spatially Heterogeneous Ecological Footprint
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Urban ecological systems are characterized by complex interactions between the natural environment and humans at multiple scales; for an individual urban ecosystem, the strongest interactions may occur at the local or regional spatial scale. At the regional scale, external ecosystems produce resources that are acquired and transported by humans to urban areas, where they are processed and consumed. The assimilation of diffuse human wastes and pollutants also occurs at the regional scale, with much of this process occurring external to the urban system. We developed the urban funnel model to conceptualize the integration of humans into their ecological context. The model captures this pattern and process of resource appropriation and waste generation by urban ecosystems at various spatial scales. This model is applied to individual cities using a modification of traditional ecological footprint (EF) analysis that is spatially explicit; the incorporation of spatial heterogeneity in calculating the EF greatly improves its accuracy. The method for EF analysis can be further modified to ensure that a certain proportion of potential ecosystem services are left for in situ processes. Combining EF models of human appropriation with ecosystem process models would help us to learn more about the effects of ecosystem service appropriation. By comparing the results for food and water, we were able to identify some of the potentially limiting ecological factors for cities. A comparison of the EFs for the 20 largest US cities showed the importance of urban location and interurban competition for ecosystem services. This study underscores the need to take multiple scales and spatial heterogeneity into consideration to expand our current understanding of human–ecosystem interactions. The urban funnel model and the spatially heterogeneous EF provide an effective means of achieving this goal.
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