Why urban ecosystem services?

Urban areas are often regarded as ecologically uninteresting, or unimportant. However, urban areas can be much richer in biodiversity than is often assumed, and may provide habitats which are becoming scarce in the wider countryside. This diversity provides a range of benefits to people in urban areas. The benefits we obtain from the biological systems around us are termed “ecosystem services”, and range from the aesthetic and health benefits of encountering diverse wildlife and greenspaces, through to the provision of food and materials, and the regulation of the cycling of nutrients and water. Ultimately we all depend on what ecosystems can provide.

Urban areas cover just 2.8% of the Earth’s land area, but over 50% of the human population lives in them, and these proportions are increasing rapidly. This means that urban areas are the places in which most people “receive” the ecosystem services, especially in the developed world where the proportion of urban dwellers is even greater. Urban areas also use most of the resource produced elsewhere, and generate much of the waste.

It is clearly important to understand how improvements can most effectively be made to urban ecosystems to enhance the interaction between urban dwellers and the natural world, to reduce the demands urban systems place on the wider environment, and to increase the contribution of urban areas to the broader scale provision of ecosystem services.

To do this we need to understand how biodiversity and ecosystem services in urban areas are related to each other, how the structure of urban areas (urban form) influences these relationships, and thus how the existing structure can best be managed and how future structure can be planned to best effect.