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. Project 5 built an evidence base for creating ‘Shared Urban Habitats’ - generating knowledge of how humans can more effectively share the urban habitat with other species, and how urban biodiversity provides benefits to city-dwelling humans.

Researchers engaged with all levels of government, urban land managers, industry, and community members to identify and implement practical solutions to conserve urban dwelling species into the future. Importantly, Project 5 research highlights the importance of cities as cultural spaces, and the need to foreground the perspectives and knowledges of First Peoples in all aspects of urban management.

The tools and resources developed by this project – such as the CAUL Urban Wildlife App, guidelines for integrating Indigenous knowledge and practice in urban biodiversity conservation, an interactive database of threatened species in Australian cities, and detailed inventories of practical actions for urban biodiversity – are currently being used to improve the practice of urban biodiversity conservation.

Overall, this project provides a greater understanding of the ecology of species in cities, the actions that promote their conservation, and the value of engaging people with urban nature.

PROJECT LEADERS

Kylie Soanes, UoM
Caragh Threlfall, formerly 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 ✅

RESEARCH TEAM

Sarah Bekessy, Zena Cumpston, Shona Eliot-Kerr, Richard Hobbs, Holly Kirk, Steve Livesley, Cecily Maller, Luis Mata, Sareh Moosavi, Kirsten Parris, Cristina Ramalho, Kylie Soanes, Lucy Taylor, Caragh Threlfall, Nick Williams, Kathryn Williams

Subprojects

5.1 - Baselining urban biodiversity

Project leader: Kylie Soanes, UoM

This subproject has changed the conversation about the value and importance of urban environments for Australia's threatened flora and fauna. Researchers 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. This led to the development of the Threatened Species in Urban Areas map, which allows people to explore the threatened animal and plant species recorded in their area, as well as species that were once present but are no longer found there. 

The Threatened Species in Urban Areas map 

Key outputs:

5.2 - Bringing nature back into cities

Project leader: Luis Mata, RMIT

Many species have been lost from our urban areas. Protecting nature is a fundamental aspect of local and Indigenous cultures that has more recently become an urban sustainability goal. This sub-project investigated 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.

Key outputs:

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 subproject developed an integrated program of urban citizen-science projects in capital and regional cities around Australia. This included the CAUL Urban Wildlife mobile app with four modules (flying-foxes, bell frogs, beneficial insects, and possums and gliders in collaboration with the Threatened Species Recovery Hub). Researchers also developed 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)

Key outputs:

5.4 - Ecology and conservation of native wildlife in cities

Project leader: Kirsten Parris, UoM

This subproject investigated 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 assessed 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.

Key outputs:

5.5 - Indigenous-led research on biodiversity in the city

Project leader: Zena Cumpston, UoM 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia have applied and honed scientific practices of observation and experimentation over countless millennia to harness the tremendous potential of plants. This project committed to illuminating the deep knowledge and scientific practice of First Peoples, especially relating to plant use. A key output from this project is the ‘Indigenous Plant Use: a booklet on the medicinal, nutritional, and technological use of indigenous plants’ which encourages the use and appreciation of indigenous plants, as well as providing an accessible portal through which a wide audience may begin to understand the complexity of scientific practice of First Peoples. Increasing the wider public’s understanding of indigenous plants begins to cultivate a deeper connection. It is only through deep connection that we can foster a sense of custodianship and responsibility for Country, working together to care and nurture.

Another highlight from this project was The Living Pavilion – an Indigenous-led, temporary event space, festival and living lab that featured a unique landscape of 40,000 plants native to the Kulin Nation. Situated on the University of Melbourne’s Parkville campus, the program featured over 40 events and 39 Indigenous contributors and attracted thousands of visitors.

Key outputs:

5.6 - Practical actions for conservation in Australian cities

Project leader: Caragh Threlfall, formerly UoM

Urban land managers balance the needs of local biodiversity with the needs of local communities, but have had little guidance on how to implement actions that are good for both people and nature. This project investigated the current state of practice across Australia and developed critical guidelines for urban conservation. Through broadscale interviews with urban land-managers across the country, we drew together information on the kinds of actions that were being implemented, as well as the factors that help or hinder acting for biodiversity in an urban environment. The main outcome was a national inventory of local actions – the first of its kind in Australia. This research also led to the development of an outreach booklet that showcases the perspectives of urban practitioners, sharing their lessons in an effort to improve approaches to urban biodiversity conservation, and; a report which highlights the important role of Indigenous peoples in managing urban biodiversity, and guidelines to help urban conservation practitioners better engage with Indigenous perspectives and knowledges (INDIGI LAB report).

Key outputs:

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