Session 39: Urbanization, biodiversity, and ecosystem services


Session Abstract

The interactions between urban areas and populations, biodiversity and ecosystem services are becoming increasingly diverse as urban areas expand and transform habitats. Both direct and indirect impacts of this growth on biodiversity will be significant. The direct impacts are land-use change, introduction of invasive species and change of local biogeochemical cycles. The indirect urban impacts are activities that occur in urban areas that affect biodiversity, such as consumption demands for food, water, timber and related natural resources located outside of or far from the hinterlands of urban areas. As the world’s population increasingly locates in urban areas, human activities including consumption demands will also concentrate in these locations.

Despite these negative trends, cities may also include opportunities for biodiversity. For example, given population growth, concentrating land use change in and around urban areas can help save habitat. A generous estimate of current urban land-use suggests that it accounts for approximately 3% of total terrestrial area. However, regional and global studies that study the likely impacts of urban expansion on biodiversity and ecosystem services are still in their infancy. While invaluable to developing our understanding between urbanization and biodiversity conservation at specific localities, case-based studies from the developing world are relatively few, insufficient to generate a comprehensive out-look. More analyses are needed, in particular, those that focus on interactive effects of factors that drive urbanization in relation to biodiversity and ecosystem services. The session provided a survey of the state of the knowledge on the interactions of urbanization with biodiversity and ecosystem services at local, regional and global scales and included studies that explore current and future relationships between urbanization and biodiversity.

Keywords: biodiversity, ecosystem services, habitat conservation, urban expansion, urban ecology


Key Discussion Points

  • The relationship between people, ecosystems, and biodiversity is multifaceted and complex.  Important issues regarding these relationships include:
    • How do the individuals interact with those ecosystems in or near which they live?  What terms do we use to discuss these interactions?  Are they ecosystem 'services' or are they processes?  This points to the focus of study, whether it is from the anthropocentric view or from a naturalistic point of view.
    • How are ecosystems and biodiversity valued by city residents, e.g., beauty, avenues for social engagement, environmental sustainability, enhancing quality of life through improvements in air quality, reductions in pollution, etc.? This also translates into issues of livability. What is required for ensuring that (urban) sustainability is not only the valuation of the local/regional ecosystems, but also those distant ecosystems on which their city may have an indirect impact in the form of consumption of resources?
    • How can the political and planning environments of a city enhance or deteriorate biodiversity and ecosystem services?  Often cities view the enhancement of these aspects of the environment not through sustainability, but through the co-benefits associated with their enhancement, e.g., what are the trade-offs of protecting ecosystems rather than utilizing them for other purposes?  An example of these would be deforestation near rapidly urbanizing cities. More often than not, the goals and priorities of local residents do not coincide with those at the national or international levels.  This leads to communication problems and conflicts across different levels of governance.



Burak Güneralp, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA

Peter Marcotullio, Hunter College – City University of New York, New York, NY, USA

Karen Seto, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA



Peter Marcotullio, Hunter College – City University of New York, New York, NY, USA

Presentation Title: Global urbanization-biodiversity tensions to the year 2100

Robert McDonald, The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA, USA

Presentation Title: The global sustainability of urban water sources

Burak Güneralp, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA

Presentation Title: Futures of global urban expansion: Uncertainties and implications for biodiversity conservation

Thomas Elmqvist, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

Presentation Title: Analyzing urban resilience and sustainability through a social-technological-ecological system approach: Lessons from the cities and Biodiversity Outlook project

Harini Nagendra, Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India

Presentation Title: The cooperative governance of urban commons


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