Shared Urban Habitat

Project 5: The Shared Urban Habitat

When cities are constructed, they often displace other habitats and the species that live there. However, Australian cities remain notable for their biodiversity, supporting significant remnant vegetation, threatened ecological communities and populations of many threatened species.

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 aims to better understand the ecology of species in cities, identify opportunities and pathways for conservation action, clarify the social, cultural, ecosystem and health benefits of biodiversity in cities, improve urban residents’ connection to urban nature, and raise the profile of urban nature and its conservation.

Major lessons from research conducted to date are:

  • Cities provide significant habitat for biodiversity, including threatened species
  • Many actors are involved in conservation actions in cities around Australia; however, some of these actions are poorly coordinated and evaluated
  • Citizen science is a valuable avenue for increasing connections between humans and biodiversity in cities
  • Access to nature in urban environments improves psychological wellbeing
  • Indigenous-Arts-Science collaborations such as The Living Pavilion (held in May 2019) are a powerful way to connect people with Indigenous place and highlight the value of nature in the city
  • We need to create more space for Indigenous-led research on biodiversity in urban environments.

PROJECT LEADERS

Caragh Threlfall, UoM
Kylie Soanes, UoM (deputy)

SUBPROJECTS

5.1 - Baselining urban biodiversity
5.2 - Bringing nature back into cities
5.3 - Developing an integrated urban citizen science program
5.4 - Ecology and conservation of native wildlife in cities
5.5 - Indigenous-led research on biodiversity in the city
5.6 - Practical actions for conservation in Australian cities

ACADEMIC PAPERS

DATASETS

OTHER RESEARCH OUTPUTS

RESEARCH TEAM

Nick Williams, Steve Livesley. Cristina Ramalho, Luis Mata, Cecily Maller, Kirsten Parris, Richard Hobbs, Sarah Bekessy, Sareh Moosavi, Kathryn Williams, Zena Cumpston

Subprojects

5.1 - Baselining urban biodiversity

Project leader: Kylie Soanes, UoM

The synthesis and analysis of existing data are important first steps in any major research undertaking. This work synthesised data on the distribution of all federally-listed threatened species within 99 Australian cities, and identified a subset of 376 threatened species that have some of their range within urban and peri-urban environments, including 26 species targeted for action in the National Threatened Species Strategy.

Explore the Threatened Species in Urban Areas map to see which threatened species have been recorded in or near 98 urban areas across Australia, as well as species that were once present but are no longer found there.

The Threatened Species in Urban Areas map

5.2 - Bringing nature back into cities

Project leader: Luis Mata, RMIT

Many species have been lost from our urban areas. This sub-project is investigating opportunities to bring species back into urban environments as a way to reverse the trend of species loss, restore ecological function and ecosystem services, and reconnect people with traditional Aboriginal knowledge.

5.3 - Developing an integrated urban citizen science program

Project leader: Kirsten Parris, UoM

The collection of data is a costly part of ecological research, and this cost often limits the scope of field-based projects. In recent years, there has been a move towards greater engagement with non-specialist “citizen scientists” to help with data collection, either on a planned or an incidental basis. Cities are ideal places to conduct citizen-science projects because dense human populations mean a large pool of potential participants. However, current urban citizen science projects in Australia are often quite fragmented. Following a range of different models, they can yield inconsistent data and achieve variable levels of engagement with the public.

This sub-project is developing an integrated program of urban citizen science projects in capital and regional cities around Australia. This includes 5.3.1 the CAUL Urban Wildlife mobile app with three modules (flying foxes, bell frogs and beneficial insects (including pollinators), and 5.3.2 a web-based environmental psychology survey to measure benefits people gain from experiencing nature in the city.

The spectacled flying fox. Credit: Kazredracer via flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

5.4 - Ecology and conservation of native wildlife in cities

Project leader: Kirsten Parris, UoM

This subproject is investigating the ecology of and conservation strategies for native wildlife in Australian cities across three taxonomic groups - frogs, flying foxes and beneficial insects (pollinators, predators and parasitoids). Using existing data, data collected through our citizen science programs, targeted field work, modelling and field experiments, we will test various management scenarios for each taxon including improvement of existing habitat, provision of new habitat via revegetation programs and/or the construction of wetlands, and increased landscape connectivity across a range of spatial scales.

5.5 - Indigenous-led research on biodiversity in the city

Project leader: Zena Cumpston, UoM

All urban environmental practices, research and policy occurs on and in Aboriginal Country. No matter the focus, approach, personnel, timing or framing, all of these practices have an impact on the lives and futures of Aboriginal people. A key challenge, then, is for urban practitioners and researchers to respond meaningfully to the expectations, rights and aspirations of Indigenous communities in urban areas. The proposed project seeks to meet this challenge within the realm of Indigenous perspectives on biodiversity in the city.

The stakeholders for this work are diverse, and include local government, schools, early learning centres, urban practitioners such as landscape architects and designers, community groups, Traditional Owner groups and the general urban-dwelling public. For example, the cultural information related to indigenous plants at The Living Pavilion was extremely popular and many participants asked how they could access this information after the event, specifically asking if there was a booklet that synthesised this work. Further, greening practitioners, schools and community groups have been contacting Research Fellow Zena Cumpston regularly to ask for more information and practical advice about their own gardens (both public and private) and discuss their educational aspirations to embed understandings of Indigenous ecological knowledge into their activities.

This sub-project will allow decision-makers to engage more meaningfully with Aboriginal perspectives of biodiversity and provide practical examples to promote urban biodiversity through more active engagement with indigenous plants and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ ecological knowledge and practices. Zena Cumpston will also connect with decision-makers though her outreach activities, including talks and workshops on Aboriginal perspectives of biodiversity for early-learning centres, schools and local governments.

5.6 - Practical actions for conservation in Australian cities

Project leader: Caragh Threlfall, UoM

Urban areas are often overlooked and undervalued in conservation planning, representing a significant missed opportunity to protect, enhance and engage with biodiversity. As such, there is little guidance for managers on how to implement conservation actions targeted to urban environments, no coordinated evidence base, and general narrative that there is little worth doing. This project will identify opportunities to make conservation gains in urban areas, exploring opportunities to enhance urban biodiversity, preserve threatened species, and connect people with nature. We seek to build momentum/encourage local conservation action in urban environments, highlighting value to decision-makers. There is a clear need to develop and test novel, creative management actions for species that are tailor-made for cities and towns, and to understand better the degree to which urban environments can contribute to conservation in Australia.

Banner image: Forest Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo. Credit: Shutterstock