Human Ecology

, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp 463–478 | Cite as

Ecosystem Services and Disservices for a Vulnerable Population: Findings from Urban Waterways and Wetlands in an American Desert City

  • Monica Palta
  • Margaret V. du Bray
  • Rhian Stotts
  • Amanda Wolf
  • Amber Wutich


Vulnerable human populations are exposed to social and biophysical stressors, but have limited capacity to mitigate them, and thus may access ecosystem services in unconventional ways. As a result of this access, they may also experience disservices (i.e., functions of ecosystems harmful to human wellbeing) in ways that are not well understood. We use a mixed-method socio-ecological approach to examine how persons experiencing homelessness in Phoenix, Arizona, access ecosystem services and encounter disservices in urban waterways. We find that urban waterways provide users with drinking and bathing water, and cooler, shaded areas, but potentially expose them to pathogens and legal persecution. The wetlands provide cultural services by affording a sense of place and safety; however, these locations can also be associated with restrictive ordinances and aggressive law enforcement. This study explores the role of ecosystem services and disservices in bridging the gap between biophysical and social vulnerability.


Ecosystem services and disservices Vulnerability Urban waterways Urban marginality Phoenix Arizona USA 



The authors wish to thank Otto Schwake, Amada Hernandez, Andrew Bishop, and Julianna Gwiszcz for assistance with data collection and sample analysis, and Morteza Abbeszadegan for provision of analytical facilities and materials. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation awards BCS-1026865(Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research) and SES-0951366 (Decision Center for a Desert City II: Urban Climate Adaptation).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Monica Palta
    • 1
  • Margaret V. du Bray
    • 2
  • Rhian Stotts
    • 2
  • Amanda Wolf
    • 3
  • Amber Wutich
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Earth and Space ExplorationArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.School of Human Evolution and Social ChangeArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  3. 3.School of Life SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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