Ecology Research Papers on Urban Ecology in Chicago

Urban Ecology in Chicago


The term urban ecology has not often been used in the city of Chicago, when used; it has not been defined and has been utilized in the definition of different approaches. One of the most popular definitions for the term urban ecology has implied studying the interactions between the biotic and the urban environment by the use of the same techniques and approaches that are used in the natural environment. The definition of the concept is immensely generic, and the definition by Marzluff et al (2008) can be regarded as the most appropriate in this context, they define urban ecology as an emerging interdisciplinary field whose aim is to understand how the humans and the ecological processes can co-exists in the human dominates systems and assists the societies with the plans to become more sustainable (Marzluff, et al., 2008). The concept of urban ecology in the city of Chicago was driven by the desire to conserve the unique biodiversity and the natural resources that were in the area.

Chicago city biodiversity

The natural environment in Chicago has undergone through many changes in the past, since the movement of glaciers from the upper Midwest, the city has gone through various transformations (Rensburg, Peacock, & Robertson, 2009). More than ninety percent of the land that was within the city limits was formerly Lake Michigan Lakebed. The lake then evolved to become grasslands and Marshlands. During the time of the Europeans exploration, in the late 1600’s, the swells were differentiated by tall grass and wild quinine. With the arrival of the first European settlers in the 1770’S the area underwent numerous man made changes which coincided with two centuries of rapid population growth. The area that was once shrubby reduced to vacant lots between buildings (Davies, Krebs, & West, 2012). The forested regions were now dwindled to the outskirts of the expanding community (Davies, Krebs, & West, 2012). The marshland was drained and filled for the creation of suitable foundation for new structures and buildings. The Chicago and the Calumet rivers were dredged and straightened and reversed for industrial purposes (Davies, Krebs, & West, 2012). The changes significantly altered ecosystems and threatened biodiversity in these region. The city through its conservation planning is trying to conserve and enhance what has been left (Marzluff, et al., 2008).

In 1999, the Chicago region Biodiversity council published the Chicago Wilderness Biodiversity Plan (Gody, 2007). One of the major recommendations for this document was for The Chicago Local municipality to create policies that would reflect the need to restore and maintain biodiversity (Begon, Townsend, & Harper, 2006). The Chicago city has much to offer because of the nature conservation, especially the habitats that it provided for the birds, both the rare and the endangered species, for example, the yellow headed blackbird and the black crown night herons (McDonnell & Picket, 1990).

The improved habitats should boost the number of the birds and the species that are suffering from the population decline, for example, the redheaded woodpecker (Marzluff, et al., 2008). Despite the fact that the threatened Flora and Fauna will always be given a high priority when it comes to the issue of conservation, one additional goal of the conservation plan should be the provision of a natural habitat protection and management for the species that are in great risk of declining in the coming years (Begon, Townsend, & Harper, 2006).

Chicago as a natural area

The modern city can be described as a type of an ecosystem that is made up of natural areas; this includes the functional related areas, for example, the residential sections, the social business centers and the financial divisions (Smith, Warren, Thompson, & Gaston, 2006). The divisions in the city are natural in the sense that the people who inhabit these areas engage with similar economic, social and the ecological issues (Begon, Townsend, & Harper, 2006). The rapidity and the drastic changes in the social institutions, the values and standards are commonly referred to as the social disorganization theories, the major forces that shape Chicago include, the population, the artifacts, the customs and beliefs in the city and the natural resources (Upton, 2008).

Conservation of the biodiversity and the ecosystem services


The city of Chicago is immensely unique in terms of its high biodiversity. The city is inclusive of a very large diversity of the endemic and the endangered vegetation types and species and therefore required conservation. The perspective of this city’s conservation should occur both at local and global levels (Upton, 2008). As a result of the high conservation status in the city, there has been extensive research that has been done on the different aspects of the more natural areas in the region. The new millennium has seen the coming of age of the various research initiatives in the city to help in the conservation of the plan for the large city; the city council has incorporated in the plans the need for the conservation of the city (McDonnell & Picket, 1990). Need for biodiversity conservation in Chicago city has provided momentum of urban ecology in Chicago city. The city has come up with different studies for the purpose of identifying the areas of the special conservation concern (Mathieu, Freeman, & Aryal, 2009).

The urban ecological research in Chicago has identified the process of urbanization as one of the most challenging concepts when it comes to the issue of conservation (Hahs & McDonnell, 2006). The biodiversity studies of the urban ecological nature, that are included in the special feature, have recognized this type of problem and considered a means whereby, the management authorities and public would take part in bridging  the research implementation gap in the process of conservation and planning, by moving away from the pure academic exercise (Smith, Warren, Thompson, & Gaston, 2006).

The development of this plan has been exemplified through the removal of   the Alien vegetation from the city (Davies, Krebs, & West, 2012). The biodiversity issues have therefore formed a solid basis for the purpose of the development of the ecological research in the city of Chicago (Begon, Townsend, & Harper, 2006). The Biodiversity in the areas that surround the city of Chicago, have been studied to the same extent as those in the city of Chicago. While the city of Chicago has chosen to engage in a systemic conservation plan, the urban areas that surround the city, have started to document their biodiversity. This comes as a result of the growing awareness that has detailed the ecological data that is needed for the creation of an implementation of conservation planning and the management of the urban open spaces (Mathieu, Freeman, & Aryal, 2009) .

The conservation planning in the city of Chicago has identified several measurable objectives that will assist in the conservation process (Smith, Warren, Thompson, & Gaston, 2006). In its planning efforts, the conservation plan will involve the citizens, the organizations, the agencies in efforts to conserve the biodiversity of the city (Begon, Townsend, & Harper, 2006). To be able to do this, the conservation plan will have a broad based and active public participation in the long term protection of the, the restoration and the stewardship of the region and the natural communities (Marzluff, et al., 2008). The local government will be strengthened through by involving its officials in the planning efforts and the conservation programs. It will be significant to build partnerships among the different organizations in the region, maintaining and strengthening the commitment of the volunteers will be of the essence (Rensburg, Peacock, & Robertson, 2009).

It is evident that the community continues to be ignorant on the issue of bio-diversity. To make the community active in the conservation process, it is good to educate them by improving the scientific basis of the ecological management. Efforts have been put to increase the knowledge of different species which is found in Chicago, the ecological relationships and the processes have been identified with an aim of specifying the result that is to be achieved in the process of biodiversity and increased sustainability in the city (Davies, Krebs, & West, 2012).

The threats of biodiversity

The pressure on the local government of Chicago to conserve the biodiversity is an immense and highly complex issue in Chicago. The increased urbanization in the region continues to remain the main threat of the city biodiversity (Doyle, 2012). The reason the concept of urbanization has remained a threat is because of the issue of habitat transformation and the alien invasive plants in the region. People continue to harvest the native fauna in areas   that surround the city; this has continued to occur on a large scale than was expected (McDonnell & Picket, 1990). This has questioned the ecological sustainability of the ecological sustainability of some of the actions, the observed indiscriminate harvesting and the biodiversity substitution have continued to contribute to the issue of resource stripping and the biodiversity substitution in the region (Davies, Krebs, & West, 2012).

The rivers and streams that support Chicago diversity were once considered as part of costly free disposal systems (McDonnell & Picket, 1990). The untreated wastes and sewage found its way to the river and the streams. As a result the rivers and the streams could no longer support the aquatic species and other living species (Davies, Krebs, & West, 2012). Despite the fact that recent years have seen the increase use of the best management practices and the development practice to eradicate the negative impacts of the metropolitan growth in Chicago, the continuing expansion of the human development in the region has presented numerous threats in the area to biodiversity. Among these is the paving over the open spaces of the new development (Miller, 1997). The city has experienced flooding and more contamination of the streams in the past few years.

The official forecast for the year 2020 by the regional planning agencies has painted a picture of substantial growth amidst the uneven growth pressures in the Chicago area. The population is likely to grow twice that of the present time (Davies, Krebs, & West, 2012). Issues of sustainability will become challenges when looking at future growth of Chicago. It will be hard for this region to effectively serve an increasingly dispersed population and at the same time maintains the social and the economic fabric of the established communities in the region (Begon, Townsend, & Harper, 2006). The threats to the air, the solid that is in the city and the water quality is implicit in the growth patterns (Begon, Townsend, & Harper, 2006).

The invasive species have been a threat to every community around the Chicago area. The invasive species are brought to Chicago, intentionally or unintentionally by the human interactions. A majority of the nonnative species is not invasive; however the few that are invasive have diseases or predators (Smith, Warren, Thompson, & Gaston, 2006). Specialists are more sensitive to ecological changes than generalist are. It is true that there is a decline in the number of birds in Chicago, for example, the Yellowstone sun bird. This could result to the biotic homogenization, a factor that can have a detrimental effect on the native biodiversity, both in terms of the bird and the plant species in the region (Wu, 2008).

The planting of the indigenous plant species around Chicago has the ability of restoring the nectarivoroud bird guild in the city (Marzluff, et al., 2008). However, the major risk in this approach remains on the contamination of the plants by the closely related garden plants. These challenges should be addressed by a thorough and scientifically based research on the preferred method of the garden plants (Davies, Krebs, & West, 2012). There is a need for social interventions when it comes to the ecological integrity of the sites that had previously been regarded as degraded sites, this can include gardens. The restoration of the degraded sites can increase the connectivity between the natural areas (Marzluff, et al., 2008).

The present oxymoron of the urban biodiversity is based in the heart of the situation, the treasures remain, but the treasures are at risks (Begon, Townsend, & Harper, 2006). The greatest risk is the extensive human activity in the region. The means of protecting the diversity in the Chicago city lies in the resources of the urban population and its institutions (Mathieu, Freeman, & Aryal, 2009). Despite the fact that development has created adverse impacts on the natural communities and the issue of biodiversity, it has also provided the financial and the human resources that are required for protecting and restoring what is remaining in the city (Begon, Townsend, & Harper, 2006). The main question that is asked by many is whether the people and the institutions or the region will be able to take the needed action in the protection of the city biodiversity. There are reasonable and powerful ways that can be utilized to get this done (Oliver, 2008).

Some experts contend that the conservation of higher quality habitats is more significant than the extension of the current habitat networks that have poor quality (Marzluff, et al., 2008). The utilization of the local indigenous species, subspecies and the eco-types, ought to be promoted by the use of a broad restoration program for the purpose of preventing the negative effects of the biotic homogenization. Habitat quality can be ensured by addressing homogenization influences of the invasive alien species (Miller, 1997).

Some studies that have focused on the private domestic gardens in rural America, have indicated that significance of private gardens and the need of studying their biodiversity and ecology, the studies indicate that they do not necessarily promote the biotic homogenization (Marzluff, et al., 2008). There are growing trends in global, platform that are focusing on the significance of private gardens as part of the entire urban green infrastructure. First, because of the large surface area that they cover in every city in the whole world and the links they have with the other green areas and the contribution that they have to biodiversity that forms the basis of the several eco-systems services (Petersen, Moll, Collins, & Hockings, 2012). The Urban domestic gardens studies are not fully developed in the city of Chicago, this is not seen as a result of the ascribable problems or the dynamic nature of the gardens, but is also as a result of the perception that the garden plants are primarily exotic (Davies, Krebs, & West, 2012). Gardens have a potential to maintain the indigenous diversity and the threatened species, even though they also have some alien species that have the potential to become invasive. These are some of the good reasons for studying urban domestic gardens (Pauw & Louw, 2012).

One general shift from the urban nature conservation approach towards the inclusion of humans as vital agents in the urban environment has been proposed in various studies (Davies, Krebs, & West, 2012). The inclusion of the social aspects of the urban ecological studies has been widely addressed in Chicago. The social aspects are no where more appropriate to study than in the urban domestic gardens of the United States cities that have steep social, economic gradients (Marzluff, et al., 2008). The garden studies have indicated that gardens form, an important indigenous knowledge system in the deep rural and the urban areas (Hahs & McDonnell, 2006).

The urban domestic gardens can be able to provide ecosystems goods and services, the wildlife habitat and the corridor between the semi natural areas (Wu, 2008). Looking this aspect using a financial point of view, the garden fraction of the city engulfs large sums of money when it comes to the management costs (Marzluff, et al., 2008). However, gardens have the potential to contribute to biodiversity enhancement in urban areas if the resources are applied in the right manner. The garden Floras are significant because plants provide food and habitats prospects for the other taxas. The high species richness and the extent of the private gardens in the city create opportunities for the conservation by the public (Marzluff, et al., 2008).

Goals and Actions for Biodiversity education and communication

The overall goal of the biodiversity education in the city of Chicago is to improve the knowledge, awareness and the attitudinal skills of the stakeholders who are participating in the recovery process. This effort needs to have actions that will carry audiences through each level (Marzluff, et al., 2008) . Some of the recommendations for the process of biodiversity recovery in the city of Chicago cannot wait until the educational goals are met (Marzluff, et al., 2008). The significant current challenges need to have an immediate strategy so that they will increase the public awareness and understanding. The perception of the ecological restoration in particular requires having an immediate response (Begon, Townsend, & Harper, 2006). While most city dwellers may agree with the concept of restoration, there is a need for enough information regarding the techniques that are required. The communication strategies need to have a method where all the perceptions are addressed together with the misunderstanding on the issue of restorations (Doyle, 2012).

The agencies and the different organizations around Chicago must compliment the long term approaches to the environmental education (Davies, Krebs, & West, 2012). All the actions should be aimed at having more focused short term biodiversity communication goals. One of the best ways to ensure that the city has educated citizens concerning the issue of biodiversity is to ensure that every person who is graduating from college is biodiversity literature (Davies, Krebs, & West, 2012). A commonly held belief of what biodiversity is should be developed, the essential skills, attitudes and experiences that are important to assist people to make informed decisions should be addressed (Marzluff, et al., 2008) The visibility of the biodiversity concepts should be encouraged.

Ecosystem services current challenge

In the city of Chicago, the stakeholders have tried to regard the city biodiversity as reasons to qualify the conservations of the remaining natural areas in and around the city (Davies, Krebs, & West, 2012). One additional approach that has shown the significance of biodiversity to human well being is the provision of the numerous goods and services of the natural ecosystems (Begon, Townsend, & Harper, 2006). A historical analysis of the different ecosystems in the city of Chicago from an ecological perspective has shown that the shifts in the emphasis on the different ecosystem services as certain ecological processes that were either conserved or even explicated (Begon, Townsend, & Harper, 2006).

Spatial models were created for the purpose of showing the effects of the three different land transformations in the city, this was done on different eco-systems services that were classified on four themes, namely the agriculture provision, the water run regulation and the ground water and the coastal zone protection (Davies, Krebs, & West, 2012). The basic provisioning services, for example, water has shifted beyond the boundary of the city. To deal with the challenges that are facing the city, there is the need to integrate the spatial models in future city planning despite the fact that this may include some tradeoffs (Begon, Townsend, & Harper, 2006).

Despite the fact that the ecosystem approach has been significant in the sensitization of different stakeholders to the need of the biodiversity, the method of selecting and protecting only the areas that have the highest values of the ecosystems will be detrimental from a bio-diversity view point (Mathieu, Freeman, & Aryal, 2009). The process of biodiversity in a city like Chicago is supposed to override the ecosystem services. Several studies have contradicted the above proposal by suggesting  the process of conservation should be primarily modeled on the priority areas in terms of the provision of the of the ecosystems goods and services (Smith, Warren, Thompson, & Gaston, 2006).

Practical Actions taken by the city of Chicago

Green roof

The city of Chicago is considered to be the greenest city in the nation, this has not come easy has been due to the willingness of the private sector and the government to come up with plans top save the city’ s biodiversity (Begon, Townsend, & Harper, 2006). One of the most viable projects that have been implemented in the city on a wide scale is the green roof. Through the green roof projects, the city councils have advocated for the installation of living vegetation on the tops of the buildings (Mathieu, Freeman, & Aryal, 2009). Each system on the green roof differs from the other through the growing media that is used to support the plant life. The key considerations of this project have included the bearing capacity of the rooftop the waterproofing, drainage and the water storage systems (Marzluff, et al., 2008).

Rooftop gardens

This is any number of garden styles that are located on the top of a roof. This is often inclusive of the living spaces and the walkways that are designed to look the same way like the traditional gardens. Roof top gardens can sustain biodiversity in their own small way (Davies, Krebs, & West, 2012). The rain gardens have been supplemented by the rain gardens which are shallow depressions that are designed with the purpose of absorbing the storm water and runoff from the impermeable surfaces, for example, the rooftops and the driveways (Begon, Townsend, & Harper, 2006).

Control measures and the human nature divide

Some experts contend that in order to conserve the unique biodiversity in Chicago, several aspects, for example, the environmental control measures and the conflict between the humans and nature have to be considered (Begon, Townsend, & Harper, 2006). Collectively, since the control measures often highlight the division that takes place between humans and nature. The main challenges remain on the integration of the ecological, the conservation, social and economic issues into the creation of a sound management that includes the whole city (Davies, Krebs, & West, 2012).

A comparative urban ecological research between the different cities in the U.S is significant to enhance people’s understanding of how the different components of the process of urbanization have influenced the ecological patterns and processes, with the main goal of increasing the outcomes of conservation and the quality of life (Doyle, 2012). Through comparisons of different cities in United States and Chicago, it becomes possible to positively contribute greatly to the knowledge of ecology of urban areas. This will be enhanced by the heterogeneity of the United States Urban areas as a result of the Unique and diverse vegetation types and the unique and complete anthropogenic motivations (Begon, Townsend, & Harper, 2006). The considerations of single factors, for example, the distance between the nearest natural plants that are pollinated by the Yellowstone bird in Chicago (Davies, Krebs, & West, 2012).


Urbanization is a reality and has remained a threat to the prevailing ecosystems and the human health and wellbeing. The concept of urban ecology has so much to contribute towards the promotion of the sensible development and the monitoring of the ecosystems specifically when it comes to the global biodiversity. Despite the tangible degradation, little research is being done in the urban environments. The urban ecological research needs all the stakeholders to be present; they should also collaborate with the researchers in urban ecology in order to have a deep understanding of the feats that are achieved in the different urban sectors. Before this account, the history and the future of the urban ecology in Chicago has been considered in a wide depth. This informative study concerning the urban ecology of the city of Chicago will be used by researchers for possible applications. It is evident that the concept of urban ecology is driven by different needs and requirements.

The urban ecology in the city of Chicago was born out of an immensely rich biodiversity, the scientist has implemented a solid foundation for the next phase of urban ecology that will not only be disciplinary but it will also be transdisciplinary. Despite the fact that many of the urban ecological studies in Chicago have applied the concept of nature in their application, they have contributed to the developments of the urban ecological theory. The further development of the urban ecology in the city of Chicago is dependent on the continuation of the academic and the applied research in the urban areas that is mentioned in this paper. Different approaches have been utilized and will continue to be used in the urban ecological studies of the city of Chicago. The future research on the city should primarily focus on including the entire urban green infrastructure, the private and   the public open space and the man made habitats.The study of the urban ecology in Chicago and different places around the world should focus on investigating, modeling and monitoring the linkages between the ecological and the social systems.


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