Socioecological linkages in cities and the rise in interdisciplinary research
A rich array of social science disciplines, including such fields as sociology, geography, anthropology, economics, environmental psychology, landscape architecture, and urban planning and design, have developed bodies of knowledge and theory about human life and the environment in cities with work stretching back over at least a century. Ecologists have come to the study of cities far later in the game, and in its initial phases, urban ecology relied on relatively simple approaches to describing the role of humans in the spatial patterns and temporal dynamics of urban ecosystems. For example, typical gradient analyses only incorporated human influences through physical metrics like building density or amount of impervious surface. Gradually, however, urban ecology is emerging as a transdisciplinary field, integrating approaches from both the biophysical and social sciences. We provide here: a brief overview of key urban theories from the social sciences, some integrative frameworks, and a review of findings from recent integrated empirical research.
Despite the diversity of contributing disciplines and their sometimes conflicting emphases, there are several points of agreement among urban theories: 1) spatial patterns are socially constructed by human actors, 2) they often reflect social hierarchies (social stratification) and 3) the morphology of cities reflects prevailing technologies, especially for transportation, in eras of building and growth. Past urban practices are also widely understood to have legacy effects on present-day city structure and function. Signatures of all these social processes can be seen in spatial patterns of biophysical structure, such as the distributions of species and vegetation cover and composition. The consequences of this spatial structuring may be profound, with implications ranging from foraging behavior to animal communication to natural selection on native plant traits. Urban ecologists are increasingly incorporating indicators of social stratification like income, race, and homeownership into analyses and study designs. However, there is considerable room to increase the sophistication of socio-ecological integration to address a wider range of social processes as well as feedbacks from ecological dynamics to human health and well-being.