Urban ecology is the study of how organisms interact with one another (including humans!) and with their environment in urban settings. The definition of “urban” can be an especially tricky one, but generally it means a place with very high levels of human development like roads, buildings, cars, infrastructure, and people.
Cities and urbanized areas create all sorts of changes to the environment. Compared to areas outside cities like mountains or forests, they can be noisy, brightly lit, warm, crowded, polluted, and maybe most importantly of all, missing much of the greenery and habitat that so many organisms rely on. And yet, cities are very much alive– they are filled with all kinds of plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi, all of which interact with humans and one another and form communities. Urban ecologists study these many, many interactions in cities for a number of reasons. Some are interested in how we can make cities better for local wildlife. Others are focused on how the health of wildlife can tell us about the health of human communities in cities. Others still want to know how cities might be driving evolutionary changes in urban wildlife.
There is no one way to study urban ecology. Everything we learn about how human-altered habitats interact with the rest of nature has the chance to help inform policy, knowledge, and community wellbeing. The beauty of this field is that cities are closely interconnected spaces where humans from all kinds of backgrounds can interact and share ideas. Urban ecology encapsulates that very feeling. It is all about finding collaboration, connection, and understanding how ecosystems can emerge in the most unusual of ways and most unexpected of places. We love urban ecology, and hope that you will love it, too!