UrBioNet: A global network for urban biodiversity research and practice
An understanding of the global factors affecting biodiversity in cities is necessary to inform scientists, city planners, and managers how best to conserve and restore urban biota. However, given the lack of global comparative studies our understanding of how urban biodiversity is structured broadly remains understudied. Here we introduce UrBioNet, an NSF funded research coordination network focused on urban biodiversity and practice. UrBioNet will develop global databases, provide planning tools, and conduct research that will advance ecological knowledge, aid in species conservation, and offer new insights into urban planning. UrBioNet has five primary goals: 1) engage scientists and managers to compile and synthesize datasets on taxonomic groups in cities with a focus on bats, birds, freshwater fish, insect pollinators, and plants; 2) include data and participation from cities in regions with rapid urban growth such as Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia; 3) identify general patterns and processes shaping urban biodiversity across the world’s cities and to quantify the relative importance of physical, climatic, and social factors in driving patterns of urban biodiversity; 4) develop recommendations for monitoring biodiversity in urban areas; and 5) share findings with students and practitioners in land management, urban design, urban planning, and with policymakers.
We have compiled datasets of birds from 54 cities and plants from 110 cities in 6 biogeographic realms and climatic, biogeographic and land cover data for each city. Our analyses show that cities have lost 74% of the pre-urban density of plant species and 92% of pre-urban bird species density. However, the majority of urban bird (94%) and plant (70%) species in cities are native and cities do support populations of rare and endangered plant and bird species. Although our work represents the largest urban global database of multiple taxa, many locations remain underrepresented. There is an immediate need for better compilation and monitoring of urban biota in areas of high regional biodiversity, such as tropical cities. We currently have 99 participants from 22 countries in UrBioNet. The databases and the collegial network supported by UrBioNet will provide the raw material for answering a number of key unresolved questions in urban ecology. Key activities in support of the network include: regionally targeted and network-wide workshops, regular steering committee and working group meetings, and an online graduate course on urban biodiversity.