Urban Ecology

Baltimore school of urban ecology

In 1997, Cary Institute Distinguished Senior Scientist Steward T. A. Pickett formed the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES), one of only two National Science Foundation Long Term Ecological Research sites in an urban setting. Under his direction, BES has grown into an interdisciplinary team of more than 150 researchers and collaborators advancing an understanding of how to achieve sustainable, resilient cities.


Creating a new green space model for tomorrow’s cities

When you think of urban planning and design, the U.S. Forest Service likely isn't the first federal agency that comes to mind. But with upwards of 70 percent of the world's population projected to live in cities by 2050, the Forest Service is not only paying attention to urban ecosystems, they're hoping to help shape urban design and planning around them.

Leave leaves alone


In natural ecosystems, there is little waste. Nutrients taken up by plants are returned to the soil when plants die and decompose. Ecologists call this nutrient loop a biogeochemical cycle.

Friday, November 20, 2015 - 7:00pm

The Ecological Homogenization of Urban America

Cities and suburbs in very different parts of America share familiar patterns of roads, neighborhoods, commercial areas, landscaping, and water features. Ecologist Peter Groffman will explain how these similarities can help us understand land use change from local to continental scales. 

Mosquito migration


Globally, there are more than 3,000 mosquito species, with around 150 native to the U.S. To many listeners – a mosquito is a mosquito. But depending on the species that bites you, mosquitoes can be a nuisance or a public health threat.

Street trees are good for us


Want to feel younger? Live on a street with more trees. That's the finding of University of Chicago researchers who studied the impact of street trees on the real and perceived health of residents of Toronto, Canada.

Ecologists embrace their urban side

Urban ecologists attribute the swell of interest in their discipline to multiple factors, including the realization that human actions are warming the planet, that people are migrating to cities in increasing numbers and evidence that the study of urban ecosystems provides important and practical insights.

Ecology in a Changing World


Cary's Steward Pickett and other ecological scientists comment on the state of the discipline of ecology as the Ecological Society of America turns 100.

The Return of Predators to Urban America

Lecture Video

Dr. Roland Kays, a zoologist at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences discusses how coyotes, fishers, and other predators are adapting to urban and suburban life.

Mannahatta: The Past, Present, and Future of New York City

Lecture Video

Rediscover the lost ecology of Manhattan in a presentation by Wildlife Conservation Society's Dr. Eric Sanderson. In the Mannahatta Project, Sanderson reveals the thin wooded island that Henry Hudson sailed past in 1609.

Informing resilient coastal cities

Coastlines make up less than ten percent of the land in the continental U.S., yet they house nearly forty percent of our population. 

Urban ecology in China

This past summer Cary's Steward Pickett was a Visiting International Professor at the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences in Beijing. The center is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and home to the State Key Laboratory of Urban and Regional Ecology.

Baltimore and Beijing: A learning expedition to China

This last summer, I had the pleasure of being hosted as a Visiting International Professor by the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences in Beijing.

Science and art


Science and art are rarely thought of as going hand-in-hand. In fact, we typically think of scientists and artists as having entirely different type of brains – one logical and analytical, the other creative and subjective.

A crash course in urban watersheds

Urban waterways have been channeled, diverted, buried and polluted for centuries, but they have only recently been studied as part of the larger urban ecosystem.

asian tiger mosquito

Mosquitoes in urban areas


Now that summer is finally on the horizon, so too is mosquito season. More than an annoyance, mosquitoes can spread serious illnesses, like West Nile virus and Dengue.

What's an urban long-term ecological research project to do?

When in 1997 the National Science Foundation (NSF) requested proposals for up to two urban Long-Term Ecological sites to join the network of wild and production ecosystems that had been studied up to that point, it had both long-standing and new goals in mind.

sprinkler and fertilizer

National study reveals urban lawn care habits

What do people living in Boston, Baltimore, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix, and Los Angeles have in common? From coast to coast, prairie to desert – residential lawns reign.

When antibacterials go down the drain

Triclosan – a synthetic antibacterial – is driving the development of resistant bacteria in streams and rivers, with urban sites most impacted. So reports a recent study by the Cary Institute’s Emma Rosi-Marshall.

Radio Interview with Steward Pickett

Cary's Steward Pickett, Director of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, discusses urban ecology and the need to design more ecologically sustainable cities.

Urban Ecology: The Path to Sustainable Cities

Lecture Video

Director of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study Steward Pickett discusses how urban ecology can make our cities greener, cleaner, and healthier for all.

Why does your yard look the same as every other yard?

Since 2011, scientists have been exploring people’s yards in six U.S. metropolitan areas–Los Angeles, Phoenix, Boston, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Baltimore.

The many benefits of urban trees


Trees increase property values in neighborhoods where they are planted. Through the evaporation of soil water, trees cool the urban environment, reducing the need for air conditioning.

When good ideas produce bad outcomes


When rainwater passes over hard surfaces, like roads and parking lots, it accumulates pollutants, which are then washed into nearby waterways.

Improving water, improving lives


Add water pollution to the list of ills suffered by under-served urban communities. Economically-depressed neighborhoods are hotspots for water contamination due to aging sewer and storm-water systems. Optimistically, a new study suggests that water cleaning and community greening can go hand-in-hand. 

Baltimore's Watershed 263 experiment in socioecology

Projects that improve water quality by planting vacant lots, parking strips, and other urban spaces with trees and community gardens also bring people out of doors and teach local kids about their environment.

Bloom Town - The wild life of American cities

In places like Phoenix and Minneapolis, scientists think that cities are starting to look alike in ways that have nothing to do with the proliferation of Starbucks, WalMart or T.G.I Fridays.

Dr. Emma Rosi-Marshall named Director Designate of BES

Dr. Rosi-Marshall will be the next Director of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, Long-Term Ecological Research project, a role that is targeted to begin in 2016.


Cities as ecosystems?


Ecologists define an ecosystem as a unit of the landscape—a forest, a lake, or a river.  Often, they are interested in the movement of materials through that area.  Rain may deposit nitrogen in a forest, while a stream may carry nitrogen away from the forest and into a river.

An interview with Steward Pickett

As director of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, Pickett leads an ambitious, multi-partner effort looking at how urban areas function as ecosystems. 


Trees invaluable to community

Dave Strayer and Gary Lovett sounded a warning about the looming local extinction of ash trees. This almost certain event is because of the spread of the emerald ash borer.

Ecological research in urban setting requires innovative methods

While most ecologists conduct field work in natural settings, Cary Institute scientists have pioneered the inclusion of urban and suburban landscapes in ecological research.

Even for city folks, ecology begins at home

When I was 13 years old, and supportive adults asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would enthusiastically blurt out, "I want to be an ecologist!"

Notes from the field: Lessons from the city

As the Director of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES), a Long Term Ecological Research project, I work with colleagues to reveal how watersheds can be used to understand interactions among social, biophysical, and built environments.

A good lawn is a small lawn

The great American lawn is about as far from a natural ecosystem as one can get. These artificial landscapes require an inordinate amount of resources to keep them in the green and manicured condition Americans have come to expect.

The City As an Ecological Classroom: An Interview with Janie Gordon

The Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) is a collaborative of over 30 researchers, educators and policy makers working together to understand how urban ecosystems function. Led by Institute Distinguished Senior Scientist Dr. Steward T. A. Pickett, other IES staff members involved in the effort include: Microbial Ecologist Dr. Peter M. Groffman, Educator Dr. Alan R. Berkowitz, BES Education Coordinator Ms. Janie Gordon, BES Information Manager Mr. Jonathan Walsh, and Administrative Assistant Ms. Holly Beyar.

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