Small urban campus wild patches: Combining conservation and education as ecosystem services
The urban environment is one of the best and most extreme examples of a human-made and -dominated system. Despite this, wild animals and plants (and other organisms) find niches within this system, and urban biodiversity can be understood as a provider of ecosystem services. Nevertheless, urban university and school campuses are among the last places in which one might expect to experience nature. We use the example of small patches (less than 0.3 acres), managed to attract wildlife, in the center of the urban campus of Rutgers Newark in the New York/New Jersey Metropolitan area as a biodiversity case study. Despite occasionally seen by some as an eyesore or even perceived as a security risk, and therefore being at constant risk of obliteration, the “Biodiversity patches” developed in the last 10 years through non-obtrusive management and spontaneous, natural succession into nature-like habitats that attract wildlife. We explore how small patches of “urban wilderness” may be co-managed with more traditional campus landscaping and analyze the benefits of such patches for both biodiversity and the (human) campus community. In particular we ask whether biodiversity is correlated to, or even equal to, providing ecosystem services.
The benefits for urban nature are obvious: more than 110 bird species (of 142 campuswide) that temporally use the patches as stop-over during migration (often in higher densities as compared to much larger sites regionally), over 100 plant species and a steadily increasing number of invertebrate species have been found here. Moreover, the benefits for the campus community emerge as distinct ecosystem services. Among the physical effects, the sites reduce the heat island effects of the built-up campus, aid run-off infiltration, and act both as sound barriers and windbreaks. The social effects range from general appreciation of nature and nature-related recreation (e.g., bird watching, etc.), to more university-specific activities such as teaching (all field-oriented biology courses use these patches) and research. The site is utilized increasingly in science outreach to the student body and to residents of surrounding neighborhoods in activities such as Earth Day plantings and annual BioBlitzes, and is featured as a campus highlight and fund raising asset during open houses and alumni functions. All this showcases that urban biodiversity in itself can be a provider of varied eco-physical and social ecosystem services.