Understanding and Applying Ecological Principles in Cities

  • Heather Rumble
  • Fabio Angeoletto
  • Stuart ConnopEmail author
  • Mark A. Goddard
  • Caroline Nash
Part of the Cities and Nature book series (CITIES)


Renaturing cities requires a thorough understanding of how plants and animals interact with the urban environment and humans. But cities are a challenging environment for ecologists to work in, with high levels of heterogeneity and rapid rates of change. In addition, the hostile conditions often found in cities mean that each city, and region of a city, can have their own unique geographical context. In this chapter, we contrast urban ecological research in the UK and Brazil, to demonstrate the challenges and approaches needed to renature cities. In so doing, we provide a platform for global transferability of these locally contextualised approaches. The UK has a long history of urbanisation and, as a result of increasing extinction debts over 200 years, well-established urban ecological research. Research is generally focused on encouraging species back into the city. In contrast, Brazil is a biodiversity hotspot with relatively rich urban flora and fauna. This rich ecosystem is imperilled by current rapid urbanisation and lack of support for urban nature by city-dwellers. By working together and transferring expertise, UK and Brazilian researchers stand a better chance of understanding urban ecological processes and unlocking renaturing processes in each location. We present one such method for applying ecological knowledge to cities, so-called Ecological Engineering, in particular by discussing ecomimicry—the adaptive approach needed to apply global ecological principles to local urban challenges. By reading the ecological landscape in which urban developments sit and applying tailored green infrastructure solutions to new developments and greenspaces, cities may be able to reduce the rate at which extinction debt is accumulated.


  1. Adams LW (2005) Urban wildlife ecology and conservation: a brief history of the discipline. Urban Ecosyst 8:139–156. Scholar
  2. Angeoletto F, Santos JWMC, Ruiz Sanz JP et al (2016) Tipología socio-ambiental de las ciudades medias de Brasil: aportes para un desarrollo urbano sostenible. urbe Rev Bras Gestão Urbana 8:272–287. Scholar
  3. Angeoletto F, Sanz JPR, Albertin RM, da Silva FF (2017) The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence: the flora in urban backyards of different social classes. Ambient Soc 20:1–20. Scholar
  4. Antonini Y, Martins RP, Aguiar LM, Loyola RD (2013) Richness, composition and trophic niche of stingless bee assemblages in urban forest remnants. Urban Ecosyst 16:527–541. Scholar
  5. Aronson MFJ, La Sorte FA, Nilon CH et al (2014) A global analysis of the impacts of urbanization on bird and plant diversity reveals key anthropogenic drivers. Proc Biol Sci 281:20133330. Scholar
  6. Averill C, Turner BL, Finzi AC (2014) Mycorrhiza-mediated competition between plants and decomposers drives soil carbon storage. Nature 505:543–545. Scholar
  7. Baldock KCR, Goddard MA, Hicks DM et al (2015) Where is the UK’s pollinator biodiversity? The importance of urban areas for flower-visiting insects. Proc Biol Sci 282:20142849. Scholar
  8. Batten LA (1972) Breeding bird species diversity in relation to increasing urbanisation. Bird Study 19:157–166. Scholar
  9. Bellamy CC, van der Jagt APN, Barbour S et al (2017) A spatial framework for targeting urban planning for pollinators and people with local stakeholders: a route to healthy, blossoming communities? Environ Res 158:255–268. Scholar
  10. Bennie J, Davies TW, Cruse D et al (2018) Artificial light at night alters grassland vegetation species composition and phenology. J Appl Ecol 55:442–450. Scholar
  11. Bradshaw AD, Chadwick MJ (1980) The restoration of land: the ecology and reclamation of derelict and degraded land. Blackwell Scientific Publications, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  12. Brightsmith D, Bravo A (2006) Ecology and management of nesting blue-and-yellow macaws (Ara ararauna) in Mauritia palm swamps. Biodivers Conserv 15:4271–4287. Scholar
  13. Cannon AR, Chamberlian DE, Toms MP et al (2005) Trends in the use of private gardens by wild birds in Great Britain 1995-2002. J Appl Ecol 42:659–671. Scholar
  14. Chong KY, Teo S, Kurukulasuriya B et al (2014) Not all green is as good: different effects of the natural and cultivated components of urban vegetation on bird and butterfly diversity. Biol Conserv 171:299–309. Scholar
  15. Conceicao MC (1994) Aspects of preservation, maintenance and management of the urban forest in Brazil. J Arboric 1:61–68Google Scholar
  16. Connop S, Vandergert P, Eisenberg B et al (2016) Renaturing cities using a regionally-focused biodiversity-led multifunctional benefits approach to urban green infrastructure. Environ Sci Policy 62:99–111. Scholar
  17. Constanza R, de Groot R, Sutton P et al (2014) Changes in the global value of ecosystem services. Glob Environ Chang 26:152–158. Scholar
  18. Cramp S (1980) Changes in the breeding birds of Inner London since 1900. In: Symposium on urbanizationGoogle Scholar
  19. Dallimer M, Irvine KN, Skinner AMJ et al (2012) Biodiversity and the feel-good factor: understanding associations between self-reported human well-being and species richness. BioScience 62:47–55. Scholar
  20. Dallimer M, Tang Z, Bibby PR et al (2011) Temporal changes in greenspace in a highly urbanized region. Biol Lett 7:763–766. Scholar
  21. Davies ZG, Edmondson JL, Heinemeyer A et al (2011) Mapping an urban ecosystem service: quantifying above-ground carbon storage at a city-wide scale. J Appl Ecol 48:1125–1134. Scholar
  22. Davis BNK (1976) Wildlife, urbanisation and industry. Biol Conserv 10:249–291. Scholar
  23. Duarte TEP, Angeoletto FHS, Correa Santos JWM et al (2017) O papel da cobertura vegetal nos ambientes urbanos e sua influência na qualidade de vida nas cidades. Desenvolv Quest 15:175. Scholar
  24. Dunn RR, Gavin MC, Sanchez MC, Solomon JN (2006) The pigeon paradox: dependence of global conservation on urban nature. Conserv Biol 20:1814–1816. Scholar
  25. Dunnett N, Kingsbury N (2004) Planting green roofs and living walls. Timber Press, Portland (OR)Google Scholar
  26. Edgington J (2008) Lepidopterists through the lens: portraits from the first fifty years of the LNHS. London Nat 87:123–132Google Scholar
  27. Edmondson JL, Stott I, Davies ZG et al (2016) Soil surface temperatures reveal moderation of the urban heat island effect by trees and shrubs. Sci Rep 6:33708. Scholar
  28. Evans J (2004) What is local about local environmental governance? Observations from the local biodiversity action planning process. Area 36:270–279. Scholar
  29. Eversham BC, Roy DB, Telfer MG (1996) Urban, industrial and other manmade sites as analogues of natural habitats for Carabidae. Ann Zool Fennici 33:149–156Google Scholar
  30. Farias AR (2017) Identificação, mapeamento e quantificação das áreas urbanas do Brasil. In: Embrapa Gestão Territorial-Comunicado Técnico (INFOTECA-E)Google Scholar
  31. Fitter RSR (1945) London’s natural history. Collins, LondonGoogle Scholar
  32. Fontana CS, Burger MI, Magnusson WE (2011) Bird diversity in a subtropical South-American City: effects of noise levels, arborisation and human population density. Urban Ecosyst 14:341–360. Scholar
  33. Fuller RA, Irvine KN, Devine-Wright P et al (2007) Psychological benefits of greenspace increase with biodiversity. Biol Lett 3:390–394. Scholar
  34. Gaston KJ, Ávila-Jiménez ML, Edmondson JL (2013) REVIEW: managing urban ecosystems for goods and services. J Appl Ecol 50:830–840. Scholar
  35. Gibson CWD (1998) Brownfield: red data—the values artificial habitats have for uncommon invertebrates. English Nature Research Report No. 273. PeterboroughGoogle Scholar
  36. Gilbert O (1983) The wildlife of Britain’s wasteland. New Sci 67:824–829Google Scholar
  37. Gilbert O (1989) The ecology of urban habitats. Chapman and Hall, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Gomes MAS, Amorim MCCTA (2002) As pracas publicas de Presidente Prudente/SP:dinamica socio-espacial e caracterizacao da vegetacao. Geogr Atos 1:21–37Google Scholar
  39. Goode DA (1989) Urban nature conservation in Britain. J Appl Ecol 26:859. Scholar
  40. Goode DA (2014) Nature in towns and cities. William Collins, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  41. Grimm NB, Grove JG, Pickett STA, Redman CL (2000) Integrated approaches to long-term studies of urban ecological systems: urban ecological systems present multiple challenges to ecologists—pervasive human impact and extreme heterogeneity of cities, and the need to integrate social and ecological approach. BioScience 50:571–584.;2CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Guadagnin DL, Gravato ICF (2009) Value of Brazilian environmental legislation to conserve biodiversity in suburban areas. A case study in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Nat Conserv 7:133–145Google Scholar
  43. Hahs AK, McDonnell MJ, McCarthy MA et al (2009) A global synthesis of plant extinction rates in urban areas. Ecol Lett 12:1165–1173. Scholar
  44. Hardoy JE, Mitlin D, Satterthwaite D (2001) Environmental problems in an urbanizing world: finding solutions in cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Earthscan, UKGoogle Scholar
  45. Hartig T, Mitchell R, de Vries S, Frumkin H (2014) Nature and health. Annu Rev Public Health 35:207–228. Scholar
  46. Harvey PR (2000) The East Thames Corridor: A nationally important invertebrate fauna under threat. Br Wildl, 91–98Google Scholar
  47. Hector A, Bagchi R (2007) Biodiversity and ecosystem multifunctionality. Nature 448:188–190. Scholar
  48. Ives CD, Lentini PE, Threlfall CG et al (2016) Cities are hotspots for threatened species. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 25:117–126. Scholar
  49. Leitmann J (1995) A global synthesis of seven urban environmental profiles. Cities 12:23–39. Scholar
  50. Lekberg Y, Rosendahl S, Olsson PA (2015) The fungal perspective of arbuscular mycorrhizal colonization in “nonmycorrhizal” plants. New Phytol 205:1399–1403. Scholar
  51. Lepczyk CA, Aronson MFJ, Evans KL et al (2017) Biodiversity in the city: fundamental questions for understanding the ecology of urban green spaces for biodiversity conservation. BioScience 67:799–807. Scholar
  52. Lessi BF, Pires JSR, Batisteli AF, MacGregor-Fors I (2016) Vegetation, urbanization, and bird richness in a brazilian peri-urban area. Ornitol Neotrop 27:203–210Google Scholar
  53. Lombardo MA (1985) Ilha de Calor nas Metrópoles: o exemplo de São Paulo. Editora. Hucitec, Sao PauloGoogle Scholar
  54. Loram A, Thompson K, Warren PH, Gaston KJ (2008) Urban domestic gardens (XII): the richness and composition of the flora in five UK cities. J Veg Sci 19:321–330. Scholar
  55. Lye GC, Osborne JL, Park KJ, Goulson D (2008) Using citizen science to monitor Bombus populations in the UK: nesting ecology and relative abundance in the urban environment. J Insect Conserv 12:696–707. Scholar
  56. Mabey R (2010) The unofficial countryside. Little Toller Books, DorchesterGoogle Scholar
  57. Maddock A (2010) UK biodiversity action plan; Priority habitat descriptions—open mosaic habitats on previously developed landGoogle Scholar
  58. Marshall M (2007) The theory and practice of ecomimicry. Working Paper Series: no. 3. CurtinGoogle Scholar
  59. McKinney ML (2008) Effects of urbanization on species richness: a review of plants and animals. Urban Ecosyst 11:161–176. Scholar
  60. McKinney ML (2006) Urbanization as a major cause of biotic homogenization. Biol Conserv 127:247–260. Scholar
  61. MEA (2005) Millenium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report. Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  62. Mitsch WJ (2012) What is ecological engineering? Ecol Eng 45:5–12. Scholar
  63. Nafilyan V (2015) UK natural capital–Land cover in the UK. Office for National Statistics.
  64. Nash C (2017) Brownfield-inspired green infrastructure: a new approach to urban biodiversity conservation. University of East London, unpublished PhD thesisGoogle Scholar
  65. Niemelä J, Breuste JH, Elmqvist T et al. (2011) The history of urban ecology: an ecologist’s perspectiveGoogle Scholar
  66. Nilon CH, Aronson MFJ, Cilliers SS et al (2017) Planning for the future of urban biodiversity: a global review of city-scale initiatives. BioScience 67:332–342. Scholar
  67. Nunes H, Rocha FL, Cordeiro-Estrela P (2017) Bats in urban areas of Brazil: roosts, food resources and parasites in disturbed environments. Urban Ecosyst 20:953–969. Scholar
  68. Owen J, Royal Horticultural Society (Great Britain) (2010) Wildlife of a garden: a thirty-year study. Royal Horticultural SocietyGoogle Scholar
  69. Pacheco R, Vasconcelos HL (2007) Invertebrate conservation in urban areas: ants in the Brazilian Cerrado. Landsc Urban Plan 81:193–199. Scholar
  70. Pauleit S, Duhme F (2000) Assessing the environmental performance of land cover types for urban planning. Landsc Urban Plan 52:1–20. Scholar
  71. Reis E, López-Iborra GM, Pinheiro RT (2012) Changes in bird species richness through different levels of urbanization: implications for biodiversity conservation and garden design in Central Brazil. Landsc Urban Plan 107:31–42. Scholar
  72. Robins J, Henshall S, Farr A (2013) The state of brownfields in the Thames Gateway. Essex Nat 29:77–88Google Scholar
  73. Ruiz-Lozano JM, Aroca R, Zamarreño ÁM et al (2016) Arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis induces strigolactone biosynthesis under drought and improves drought tolerance in lettuce and tomato. Plant Cell Environ 39:441–452. Scholar
  74. Ruszczyk A, Mellender De Araujo A (1992) Gradients in butterfly species diversity in an urban area in Brazil. J Lepid Soc (USA) 46:255–264Google Scholar
  75. Song Y, Chen D, Lu K et al (2015) Enhanced tomato disease resistance primed by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus. Front Plant Sci 6:786. Scholar
  76. Terradas J (2001) Ecología Urbana. Editorial Rubes, BarcelonaGoogle Scholar
  77. Tews J, Brose U, Grimm V et al (2004) Animal species diversity driven by habitat heterogeneity/diversity: the importance of keystone structures. J Biogeogr 31:79–92. Scholar
  78. Thompson K, Austin KC, Smith RM et al (2003) Urban domestic gardens (I): putting small-scale plant diversity in context. J Veg Sci 14:71–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Tinoco LB (2015) Avaliação do sucesso reprodutivo da Arara- Canindé (Ara ararauna – Psittacidae) e o desenvolvimento urbano de Campo Grande. Universidade Anhanguera-Uniderp, Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do SulGoogle Scholar
  80. Todd J, Brown EJG, Wells E (2003) Ecological design applied. Ecol Eng 20:421–440. Scholar
  81. Tratalos J, Fuller RA, Warren PH et al (2007) Urban form, biodiversity potential and ecosystem services. Landsc Urban Plan 83:308–317. Scholar
  82. Viola EJ (1988) The ecologist movement in Brazil (1974-1986): from environmentalism to ecopolitics. Int J Urban Reg Res 12:211–228. Scholar
  83. Webb JR, Lott DA (2006) The development of ISIS: A habitat-based invertebrate assemblage classification system for assessing conservation interest in England. J Insect Conserv 10:179–188. Scholar
  84. White CM, Risebrough RW, Temple SA (1989) Observations of North American peregrines in South America. In: Meyburg B-U, Chancellor RD (eds) Raptors in the modern world. World Working Group on Birds of Prey, Berlin, pp 89–93Google Scholar
  85. Wilson EO (1984) Biophilia. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  86. Zhao S, Lian F, Duo L (2011) EDTA-assisted phytoextraction of heavy metals by turfgrass from municipal solid waste compost using permeable barriers and associated potential leaching risk. Bioresour Technol 102:621–626. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Heather Rumble
    • 1
  • Fabio Angeoletto
    • 2
  • Stuart Connop
    • 3
    Email author
  • Mark A. Goddard
    • 4
  • Caroline Nash
    • 3
  1. 1.University of PortsmouthPortsmouthUK
  2. 2.Universidade Federal do Mato GrossoCuiabáBrazil
  3. 3.University of East LondonLondonUK
  4. 4.University of LeedsLeedsUK

Personalised recommendations