PS 89-239 - Assessment of the current state of the field of urban ecology and its alignment with the information needs of municipal sustainability workers

Friday, August 11, 2017
Exhibit Hall, Oregon Convention Center
Michael L. Simeon, Maria Dahmus, Jane Feely, Claire Spangenberg and Gaston E. Small, Biology Department, University of St. Thomas, Saint Paul, MN

Urban ecology is a growing discipline that seeks to understand the interactions between human activity and the ecological processes occurring in urbanized areas. Urban ecology research has potential to be applied to help meet municipal sustainability objectives. However, this research may not be used by municipal sustainability coordinators if research topics are not consistent with their information needs, or if research findings are published in venues that are not accessible. We assessed the applicability of urban ecology research to the information needs of municipal sustainability coordinators in Minnesota. First, we quantified the research topics of urban ecologists through a meta-analysis of urban ecology journal articles, conference presentations, and National Science Foundation grants between 2011-2015. We then surveyed municipal sustainability coordinators through Minnesota's GreenStep Cities program, collecting information on their information needs and sources of information. We followed up with telephone interviews with three of these coordinators to collect more detailed information on information needs and sources.


Habitat conservation, biodiversity, and urban forestry were the most common categories of urban ecology research. By contrast, stormwater management, invasive species management, and green infrastructure were the top three stated information needs of municipal sustainability coordinators. These results suggest that popular research topics within the urban ecology academic community may be less relevant to professionals. Survey results also indicated that municipal sustainability coordinators primarily relied on general web searches, and the Minnesota GreenStep Cities website, for meeting their information needs. Peer-reviewed academic journal articles were rarely a source of information. Follow-up interviews revealed that sustainability coordinators often felt that academic journal articles are not accessible to them; however, their previous interactions with scientists have been overwhelmingly positive. Our results indicate that urban ecology research is not automatically relevant or accessible to municipal sustainabilty coordinators, and likely requires special effort on the part of researchers.