We recently published a paper in Global Ecology and Biogeography which shows that, contrary to popular belief, Australian cities and towns are likely to be just as important for threatened species conservation as non-urban areas. We need to escape the common mentality that cities are lost causes and think more carefully about how we manage and balance the threats and opportunities that urban areas present for conservation.
I’m really excited that a kids version of this paper is now available, thanks to the Earth Science Journal for Kids.
The Earth Science Journal for Kids is a not-for-profit organisation which translates the findings of published scientific papers into a format which is accessible to primary- or secondary-school children, to be used in science classrooms. We worked closely with ESJ Editor Tanya Dimtirova on the project, who did a fantastic job guiding us through the adaptation.
Here’s the full kids version of the paper, and the associated worksheet. You should check out the ESJ website and some of the other research they’ve covered. You can also find a Storify version of a talk I gave about this research at the Ecological Society of Australia conference here. The take-home findings from our paper were:
- 30% of Australia’s threatened species are found in our 99 cities and towns, which cover only 0.23% of the land area.
- A random point in an urban area will on average overlap with the distribution of 10 threatened species. By comparison, a random point outside of urban areas will overlap with just 2.7 species.
- Each city or town contains a unique assemblage of threatened plants and animals, and has something to contribute to threatened species conservation.
- Individual animal species tend to be found in more cities compared to plants, probably because they are much wider-ranging.
- Eight threatened plant species are found only in cities, as is the case for my new favourite, the Frankston Spider-orchid.
We think we are seeing these patterns because:
- Cities tend to be established in areas which are naturally productive and located close to water, so tend to overlap with existing biodiversity hotspots (though we did control for this in our analysis).
- Once they are established, cities introduce a suite of threatening processes such as dramatic habitat conversion, pollutants, noise, and domestic pets, which may mean these species need to be placed on the threatened list more often than their rural counterparts.
- Cities introduce a range of novel resources, such as artificial water bodies and exotic trees, which some species are able to exploit to partially offset the loss of natural resources that have been lost.
- Higher human population densities in urban areas mean there is a greater probability of threatened species being detected in these areas compared to rural ones, so the distribution maps we used may be biased towards cities.
- Australian cities are still relatively young, and may be holding a substantial extinction debt.
We are now working on a finer-scale analysis to get a better understanding of the types of threatened species occurring in cities, and to determine what actions we could be taking in urban areas to improve conservation outcomes. Stay tuned!