Baltimore Ecosystem Study

Because cities concentrate people and resources, and they have the ability to impact adjacent areas, urban systems are an important management challenge.

A ground-breaking urban ecology project, the Baltimore Ecosystem Study investigates the ecological, cultural, and economic forces that shape the environmental quality of urbanized areas.

When thinking about ecological research, many people envision scientists studying natural areas. Classic projects, such ecosystem research in New Hampshire's White Mountains, conjure up images of forested research sites. But even the most rural sites exist within a matrix of human-induced ecological change, with rainfall in the country influenced by fossil fuel combustion in developed areas. While some research sites are covered in trees, others are dominated by buildings— the science of ecology knows no boundaries.

Since the Institute's inception, scientists have been researching the ecology of urban areas. What began as the Urban-to-Rural Ecology Gradient Project, comparing urban forests in New York City to their rural and suburban counterparts, has evolved into collaboration between natural, physical and social scientists in the city of Baltimore, Maryland.

Directed by Institute ecologist Dr. Emma J. Rosi, Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) participants have been exploring the ecology of metropolitan Baltimore and they way urban dwellers interact with their environment since 1997.

By building a bridge between the natural and social sciences, BES strives to unravel how urban ecosystems function, with the goal of understanding this growing ecosystem type and incorporating the urban ecological system in the socio-political decision-making that influences the metropolitan environment. Over 35 researchers conduct the study, with partners from universities all over North America. 

Education and Outreach

The ecological knowledge the BES creates helps support educational and community-based activities, and interactions between the project and the Baltimore community are important components of the project.

Outreach efforts include a summer program for K-12 students in Baltimore County, modules, kits and materials for educators, a Research Experiences for Undergraduates program and a Pathways to Environmental Literacy Program.

Baltimore Ecosystem Study project site >

Related Projects

Ecological Complexity, Mosquito Production, and Disease Risk

Over the past 50 years, many regions across the globe have experienced a (re)emergence of mosquito-vectored diseases, both due to novel pathogens and those previously eradicated. 

aerial view of boston

Ecological Homogenization of Urban America

A result of urban land use change is homogenization across cities, where neighborhoods in very different parts of the country have similar patterns of roads and other features.

Effects of Novel Contaminants, Such as Pharmaceuticals, on Stream Ecosystems

The widespread use of novel contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals, have unknown consequences for stream ecosystems.

Urban Watersheds

BES scientists discovered that urban watersheds retain substantial amounts of nitrogen, an important water pollutant, and prevent it from flowing into downstream waters. This finding underscores the valuable service that green spaces in cities and suburbs provide by safeguarding water quality and protecting coastal waters.

River Corridors

Streamside ecosystems in urban areas do not function like those in wild and rural areas because they are often disconnected from adjacent streams by pavement and other barriers that alter the flow of water. As a consequence, urban streams are not as protected from nitrate and other pollution draining cities and suburbs.


By exploring human values and attitudes, BES scientists have found that residents in poorer, ethnically mixed communities are as concerned with environmental problems as those in wealthier neighborhoods. This is contrary to long-held assumptions about which groups care about the urban environment and are most likely to be change agents for environmental rehabilitation and stewardship.

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies | Millbrook, New York 12545 | Tel (845) 677-5343

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