CAUL Hub Project 5 – The shared urban habitat

Project Leaders – Dr Kirsten Parris, The University of Melbourne and Professor Richard Hobbs, the University of Western Australia

Project Summary

The construction and expansion of cities often leads to the loss of native species and ecological communities, to the detriment of biodiversity but also the detriment of the human urban experience. To conserve these species and communities into the future – and urban biodiversity more generally – we need to engage all levels of government as well as the urban-dwelling citizens of Australia in identifying and implementing practical solutions to this ongoing problem. We also need to measure and properly value the benefits that urban biodiversity provides to city-dwelling humans.

This project will address the broad question of how humans can effectively share the urban habitat with other species. This includes the protection and/or restoration of important habitat elements within cities, and the conservation of threatened species, threatened ecological communities and other aspects of urban biodiversity. The project will also consider how to engage people with nature in the city more effectively, and measure the benefits that people derive from everyday encounters with urban biodiversity.

See here for a project update.

Problem Statements


Description of research

Project 5 includes four sub-projects: “Baselining urban biodiversity”, “Re-wilding the city”, “Developing an integrated urban citizen science program” and “Ecology and conservation of native wildlife in cities”.

Sub-project 5.1: Baselining urban biodiversity

This sub-project will synthesise and analyse data on the current distribution of all federally-listed threatened species within urban and peri-urban regions of Australia. This will include an analysis of Australian cities and key mechanisms within them that promote or hinder the persistence of our native flora and fauna within the urban environment. Lastly, this sub-project will select species that are ecologically suitable for experimental reintroductions to urban habitats.

Sub-project 5.2: Re-wilding the city

Many species have been lost from our urban areas; this sub-project will develop a protocol for a practical re-wilding program that aims to reverse the trend and introduce nature back into the city. Re-wilding the city will have benefits both for urban biodiversity and for urban-dwelling humans. Species to be re-wilded may include both threatened and non-threatened taxa. While the re-wilding of animals will focus on individual species, re-wilding of plants is likely to focus on the re-establishment of native plant communities. Re-wilding actions may also include the establishment, re-establishment or rehabilitation of wetlands in the urban landscape, particularly ephemeral wetlands that provide important fish-free habitat for frogs and other aquatic and semi-aquatic taxa.

This subproject has a number of parts:

  1. Action research for re-wilding: Towards a network of re-wilding intervention sites Fundamental to sub-project 5.2 will be the establishment of an ‘Action Research Program’ for plant and animal re-wilding in collaboration with CAUL stakeholders.
  2. Identifying charismatic species for re-wilding cities We will conduct a preferences study on a large sample of urban-dwelling humans representing a comprehensive number of cities around the world in order to develop a protocol to determine the likely charisma (and thus social acceptability) of plant and animal species for re-wilding in urban environments
  3. Re-wilding the city: which species and why? This part will develop and fine-tune a decision-making model to assess the suitability of plant and animal species for re-wilding of cities, based on a series of ecological and social criteria.

Sub-project 5.3: Developing an integrated urban citizen science program

This sub-project will develop an integrated program of urban citizen science projects in capital and regional cities around Australia. The program will include protocols for engaging and training participants, best-practice approaches to data capture, display, storage and analysis via an online app with multiple modules, and effective ways to motivate and further empower urban citizen scientists around Australia. Additionally we will measure the psychological benefits of engaging with urban biodiversity through citizen science and other environmental programs across a broad demographic cohort, using verbal surveys and experiential sampling via a new online app.

Sub-project 5.4: Ecology and conservation of native wildlife in cities

This sub-project will investigate practical strategies for conserving native wildlife in Australian cities across three taxonomic groups – frogs, flying foxes and beneficial insects (pollinators, predators and parasitoids). As part of this sub-project, we will also explore novel approaches to communicating the science of urban ecology and conservation, and innovative ways to engage the public with urban biodiversity (e.g., through the performing arts).

Expected Outcomes


The project will deliver multiple outcomes, including:

  1. Research required to understand the number of threatened plant and animal species currently persisting in cities around Australia and those likely to be impacted by continued urban expansion, as well as to pinpoint the aspects of Australian cities that promote or hinder the persistence of threatened species, and the characteristics of species that predispose them to thrive or struggle in urban environments.
  2. A protocol for a practical re-wilding program that aims to introduce nature back into the city, along with a list of candidate species that are ecologically, socially and culturally appropriate for reintroduction and a decision tree model to assess the suitability of plant and animal species for re-wilding of cities
  3. An integrated, national urban citizen science program that engages city-dwellers with biodiversity in their neighbourhood including three urban new citizen science projects focused on frogs, flying foxes and native insect pollinators, predators and parasitoids

Specific management or policy outcomes

For decision-makers, this project will: identify a range of effective management actions for threatened frogs and flying foxes in cities around Australia; identify the most efficient management actions to conserve and promote the biodiversity of beneficial insects in urban environments; build the community engagement and consensus required to implement these actions; and contribute to the Green Cities Blueprints by elucidating and quantifying the biodiversity benefits that can be obtained through urban greening programs.


This project will provide substantial value for the environment, including: stronger community engagement with urban biodiversity through well-coordinated citizen science programs and a pilot study for re-wilding the city; and improved conservation management of frogs, flying foxes and functionally important native insects in Australian cities.

Further details can be read in the public version of the CAUL Hub Research Plan. Return to the overview of CAUL Hub research projects.