Conservation is something normally thought of as taking place far away from urban environments, in distant places where animal species are threatened. But should efforts focus a little closer to home? That’s the suggestion being made by a team of Australian environmental scientists. ‘Our research suggests that actions taken to protect threatened species in cities might return better outcomes than focusing on less disturbed ecosystems,’ says co-lead author Christopher Ives, a Research Fellow at RMIT University, Melbourne, at the time of the study. Ives undertook a survey of 1,643 threatened species within 99 Australian cities. With 30 per cent of threatened species found in cities covering only 0.23 per cent of the land area, urban areas supported a greater number of threatened species than non-urban areas.
‘Many species favour the same environmental conditions that make human settlement attractive, such as productive soils and regular rainfall,’ explains Ives. The study highlights several species (such as the grey headed flying fox) which thrive in urban environments. ‘Some human activities, such as watering gardens and planting trees with abundant fruit and flowers, can make cities sources of supplementary food and water resources,’ Ives says. ‘However, it’s possible that more threatened species are found in cities because urbanisation is a key threatening process.’
Ives also admits that the conclusions may be more applicable to countries that have experienced significant land use change, such as Australia or the USA. ‘The patterns may not be as evident in the UK given its long history of intense human land use, but would likely apply in areas where new urban development is displacing green space,’ he says. ‘In any case, the fact that species of conservation concern can exist in close proximity to people is a finding likely to be applicable to many cities around the world.’
This article was published in the February 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.