Urban Trees Meet Urban Wildlife

New Haven, CT (January 6, 2014) – As the world becomes more urbanized, an article by Richard Conniff describes the need for considering urban tree canopies for their ability to provide urban habitat and support biodiversity. He sees the start of “an urban wildlife movement” with urban trees playing a big role.

bird in treeAccording to Conniff’s report, there is both a dramatic increase in urbanized areas and a corresponding loss of wildlife. The portion of the planet characterized as urban is on track to triple from 2000 to 2030, while 17% of the 800 or so North American bird species are in decline.

This means that it’s not enough for cities to “plant a million trees, preach the gospel of backyard gardens, or build green roofs and smart streets. The trees, shrubs, and flowers in that ostensibly green infrastructure also need to benefit birds, butterflies, and other animals. They need to provide habitat for breeding, shelter, and food.”

Conniff describes initiatives focused on urban biodiversity including U.S. Forest Service research, as well as University of Virginia researchers initiating a Biophilic Cities Network devoted to integrating the natural world into urban life. And, Baltimore County, MD, officials now stipulate that canopy trees, rather than specimen, or ornamental, trees, must make up 80% of any planting on county land, and half of them need to be oaks since research has shown oaks benefit everything from caterpillars to songbirds.

Scientists are assessing not just which trees characterize a neighborhood, but how good they are as bird habitat. At the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, researchers are developing a unified database, with species lists, abundance, and, in some cases, habitat types for urban wildlife in 156 global cities so far.

A new study in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning also looks at better ways of understanding urban wildlife and habitat in combination and proposes  a marriage of the U.S. Forest Service’s i-Tree software and eBird, two current methods for keeping track of the natural world. The combination of the two enables researchers to assess not just which trees characterize a neighborhood, but how good they are as bird habitat, and which birds are using them.

Get the full report from Richard Conniff.

Source: Urban Nature: How to Foster Biodiversity in World’s Cities,” Yale 360