In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Urban Ecology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Historical Development of Urban Ecology

Ecology Urban Ecology
Michael W. Strohbach, Boris Schröder-Esselbach
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0222


Humans have become an urban species, but this is a rather recent phenomena. The first cities appeared around six thousand years ago and while their number increased, their population remained relatively small. This changed in the industrial revolution and today cities are home to more than 50 percent of the world’s human population. Considering that most people live in cities and that ecology has been around for more than one hundred years, it seems obvious to have a subdiscipline called urban ecology. Not until the 1960s and 1970s, however, did urban ecology fully emerge and not until the 1990s did it become wildly popular. Most ecologists shunned urban areas, which have traditionally been viewed in opposition to natural, pristine, and wilderness places. It is true enough that water, air, and soil in cities are often polluted, open spaces are scarce and heavily managed, and communities resemble a wild mix of native and non-native species. It took a while until ecologists perceived this not just as a mess, but also as a research opportunity for understanding key ecological principles. Such principles are treated in separate Oxford Bibliographies in Ecology articles “Competition and Coexistence in Animal Communities,” “Metapopulations and Spatial Population Processes,” “Island Biogeography Theory,” “Succession,” and “Invasive Species.” The study of these phenomena is often referred to as ecology in cities. In the 1970s, a broader, interdisciplinary perspective took hold. It is often referred to as ecology of cities and understands urban areas as social-ecological systems. This shift in perspective stemmed from a recognition that people are influencing ecosystems everywhere on earth. In fact, cities are at the heart of many environmental problems and, therefore, they are a good place to look for solutions. Today, urban ecology is a key discipline for an urban planet. The need to adapt cities to climate change, maintain vegetation in the face of climate extremes, balance the need for development with the need for green space, or decrease the negative local-to-global environmental impacts of cities can be achieved without the interdisciplinary perspective urban ecology provides. This article gives an overview of the ever-increasing urban ecology literature. Of course, the list is subjective, reflecting our academic background, professional network, and research interest as well as our language skills. We acknowledge that we may have ignored important publications, published perhaps in a language we cannot read, or we may have focused too much on one topic and too little on another. We ask readers to understand these limitations and we encourage them to help us improve this article in the future.

General Overviews

The first urban ecology books were conference proceedings and they began to appear in the 1970s (e.g., Little and Noyes 1971, cited under Historical Development of Urban Ecology). Then, beginning in the 1980s, the first textbooks appeared (Hough 1984, cited under Historical Development of Urban Ecology), Klausnitzer 1993 (oroginally published in 1987), Sukopp and Wittig 1998 (originally published in 1993), but the number remained small. This changed after 2007, when, for the first time, more people on earth lived in urban than in rural areas. Suddenly, new urban ecology books appeared almost every year. They all have in common the ecology of cities perspective, which is reflected in subtitles such as “Integrating Humans and Ecological Processes” (Alberti 2008), “An International Perspective on the Interaction between Humans and Nature” (Marzluff, et al. 2008), or “Science of Cities” (Forman 2014). The contributing authors to edited volumes represent a truly interdisciplinary background, while the writers of single-author textbooks represent disciplines that are interdisciplinary by definition, such as geography (Benton-Short and Short 2008), planning (Alberti 2008), ecology (Adler and Tanner 2013), or landscape ecology (Forman 2014).

  • Adler, Frederick R., and Colby J. Tanner 2013. Urban ecosystems: Ecological principles for the built environment. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511981050

    Based on a one-semester university course, the book represents a compact introduction to urban ecology. Each chapter ends with discussion questions, readings, and exercises. A great book for students interested in the field and for lecturers developing a new course.

  • Alberti, Marina. 2008. Advances in urban ecology: Integrating humans and ecological processes in urban ecosystems. New York: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-0-387-75510-6

    This book integrates the influential work of Marina Alberti from the 1990s and 2000s. It includes many examples from Puget Sound in Washington State, and its main contribution is toward understanding and modeling urban systems. It is therefore not recommended as an introduction into urban ecology.

  • Benton-Short, Lisa, and John R. Short. 2008. Cities and nature. New York: Routledge.

    A well-written and nicely illustrated textbook written by two geographers. It has a strong focus on environmental issues and their history.

  • Elmqvist, Thomas, Michail Fragkias, Julie Goodness, et al., eds. 2013. Urbanization, biodiversity and ecosystem services: Challenges and opportunities. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

    This edited book is heterogeneous and does not provide the best introduction to urban ecology. Two factors, however, make it interesting: first, it is open access and, second, it has a more global perspective and scope than the other books because it was initiated by the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (a multilateral treaty on the conservation and use of biodiversity).

  • Forman, Richard T. T. 2014. Urban ecology: Science of cities. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This is probably the most consistent and up-to-date urban ecology book. Forman’s style of writing and the beautiful illustrations make it entertaining and educational at the same time. Great for undergraduates and newcomers.

  • Gaston, Kevin J., ed. 2010. Urban ecology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This is an edited volume that may look unattractive on first sight (especially the figures), but it contains short and high-quality chapters by leading authors in the field. The focus is on urban biodiversity, ecosystem services, and, to a lesser extent, on planning.

  • Klausnitzer, Bernhard. 1993. Ökologie der Großstadtfauna. 2d ed. Jena, Germany: Gustav Fischer.

    This German-language book, first published in 1987, provides noteworthy insight into the wealth of early faunistic urban ecology work, in particular from central Europe.

  • Marzluff, John M., Eric Shulenberger, Wilfried Endlicher, et al., eds. 2008. Urban ecology: An international perspective on the interaction between humans and nature. New York: Springer.

    The book contains many classic urban ecology papers that were selected by editors from the University of Washington and the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. It includes some of the papers in this article.

  • Niemelä, Jari, ed. 2011. Urban ecology: Patterns, processes, and applications. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This edited volume is comprehensive, interdisciplinary, and nicely illustrated. The introductions and summaries of the main sections by leading researchers in their fields help to portray the bigger picture.

  • Sukopp, Herbert, and Rüdiger Wittig, eds. 1998. Stadtökologie: Ein Fachbuch für Studium und Praxis. 2d ed. Stuttgart: Gustav Fischer.

    This German-language textbook, which appeared in its first addition in 1993, still sets the standard when it comes to comprehensiveness and applicability. Unfortunately, no English edition exists.

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