Natural history + Public science = Big discoveries in urban ecology
Our world is becoming increasingly urban; by 2050, it’s predicted that 70 percent of the global population will live in an urban area. And yet despite dense human occupancy of cities, we know so very little about the ecology, evolution and natural history of the species living in urban ecosystems. In fact, ecologists spend 15 times more effort (as measured by number of published ecological studies) in protected areas compared to densely populated areas.
We see an opportunity in this lack of academic research focus to harness the power of the public to fill huge knowledge gaps in our understanding of urban ecology and natural history. Through citizen science, we can engage the public directly in scientific discovery in the places where they live, work and go to school. We’ll provide an overview of urban citizen science projects and key findings, with a special focus on the projects we coordinate through the Your Wild Life program (yourwildlife.org).
The number of citizen science projects investigating the natural history and ecology of cities has grown tremendously in the last decade. Today, the public can participate in research studying numerous taxa including birds, arthropods, amphibians and mammals. Collectively this work has yielded important insights regarding the state of urban biodiversity, species invasions, food webs, and adaptation to the built environment. Specific examples drawn from the Arthropods of Our Homes, the Camel Cricket Census and the School of Ants projects reveal how natural history observations contributed by citizen scientists have improved our understanding of ecological interactions taking place in the built environment.