Ecological Signatures: The Science of Sustainable Urban Forms


Alberti, Marina

Journal or Book Title: Places

Keywords: urban ecology; landscape ecology; land-use patterns; biodiversity; ecosytem function

Volume/Issue: 19/3

Page Number(s): 56-60

Year Published: 2007


Urban ecological systems are characterized by complex interactions among social, economic, institutional, and environmental variables. These interactions generate complex human-dominated landscapes, which significantly influence the functioning of local and global earth ecosystems and the services they provide to humans and other life on earth. Urban development fragments, isolates, and degrades natural habitats; simplifies and homogenizes species composition; disrupts hydrological systems; and modifies energy flow and nutrient cycling. Urban areas also appropriate a large share of earth’s carrying capacity from other regions in terms of resource input and waste sinks. Change in ecological conditions that result from human actions in urban areas ultimately affect human health and well-being. In this article, the author reviews the empirical evidence on the effects that patterns of urban development have on ecosystem function. Urban development affects the spatial heterogeneity of the landscape (i.e., pattern of variation in land cover) and spread of disturbance (i.e., invasive species). The author proposes that alternative urban patterns generate differential ecological effects. The review reveals that the interactions between urban development patterns and ecosystem dynamics are still poorly understood. The author draws on an empirical study of the Puget Sound metropolitan region currently developed at the University of Washington to propose directions for future empirical research that can inform strategies to minimize urban impacts on ecosystems.

Type of Publication: Journal Article