The rise of urban ecology in the United States
Ecologists in the United States now recognize urban ecology as a subfield of ecology. The Ecological Society of America has an active urban ecosystem ecology section and annual meetings of the society include urban ecology-focused symposia, organized oral sessions and contributed paper and poster sessions. Many mainstream ecologists date the start of urban ecology to a 1990 paper by Mark McDonnell and Steward Pickett or to the National Sciences Foundation's emphasis on urban ecosystem ecology that started in 1990's. However, the conceptual areas addressed in urban ecology and the actual research and application of the discipline have a long history. In this presentation I explore the rise of urban ecology by examining the roots that urban ecology has in other disciplines and some of the factors leading to its development as a recognized subfield of ecology in the U.S.
The most important conceptual idea of urban ecology is that cities can be viewed as coupled human and ecological systems. This perspective on cities developed in part from social science theory particularly from sociology and geography. Studies of urban form and morphology from the early 1900's continue to influence urban ecologists. Urban ecology in the U.S. has also been influenced by the post-World War II development of urban ecology in Europe and Japan which built on natural history studies in cities and expanded this to look at cities as unique systems that were worthy of study. The European tradition in landscape ecology that emphasized landscapes as human and natural systems and the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Project 11 program which sought to apply the human-ecosystem model to urban, also influenced the development of urban ecology in the U.S. Natural resource management had an important influence on urban ecology with development of urban wildlife and urban forestry as areas of research and management. These disciplines addressed management issues in cities and looked at cities as linked social and natural system. A careful review of the rise of urban ecology can bring new perspectives to both the sub-discipline and to those interested in the history of ecology in the U.S.