Biological Invasions

, Volume 19, Issue 12, pp 3471–3487 | Cite as

Invasion ecology goes to town: from disdain to sympathy

  • Joëlle Salomon CavinEmail author
  • Christian A. Kull


How can one understand the increasing interest in “urban invasions”, or biological invasions in urban environments? We argue that interest in urban invasions echoes a broader evolution in how ecologists view “the city” in relation to “the natural”. Previously stark categorical distinctions between urban and natural, human and wild, city and ecology have floundered. Drawing on conceptual material and an analysis of key texts, we first show how the ecological sciences in general—and then invasion science in particular—previously had a blind spot for cities, despite a number of important historical and continental European exceptions. Then, we document the advent of an urban turn in ecology and, more recently, in invasion ecology, and how this has challenged fundamental concepts about “nativity”, “naturalness”, and human agency in nature. The urban turn necessitates more explicit and direct attention to human roles and judgements. Ecology has moved from contempt (or indifference) for cities, towards interest or even sympathy.


Biological invasions Historical perspective Invasion science Paradigm shift Urban ecology 



An early version of this paper was presented at a workshop on ‘Non-native species in urban environments’ hosted and funded by the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology ( in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in November 2016. Comments and suggestions from participants at the workshop improved the paper. Three anonymous reviewers provided very helpful comments on the new version.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Geography and SustainabilityUniversity of LausanneLausanneSwitzerland
  2. 2.Centre for Geography and Environmental ScienceMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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