Our research vision is to conduct solutions oriented science to enhance biodiversity conservation and ecosystem service provision in urban and urbanizing landscapes
We use the ecosystem services concept as a lens through which to ask ecological questions related to sustainability, policy and practice. Within this framework, we use field observation/experiments, advanced sensor data, and synthesis approaches to ask how landscape structure, land-use history, and biodiversity interact to impact multiple ecosystem services in urban and urbanizing landscapes. While research in the lab is strongly grounded in landscape and ecosystem ecology, we recognize that addressing complex ecological problems is inherently interdisciplinary. We strive to develop research partnerships both within and outside the university, and value community engagement as integral to our work. Past research has relied on partnerships with landowners and managers, community groups, local governments, and planners. (We are always looking for new research partners!)
We live in an urban world! More than half the world’s people (and > 80% of Canadians) live in cities, and conversion to urban land is among the most irreversible and fastest growing forms of global change. This era of unprecedented urban growth has markedly changed ecosystem structure, function, and biodiversity, and consequently the ecosystem services that our health and wellbeing depend on. To work towards more sustainable, liveable cities, it is important to understand where there are opportunities to manage cities for increased biodiversity conservation and ecosystem service provision. Cities also make fascinating ecological study systems! Urban landscapes are complex mosaics of land-cover types, characterized by different land-use histories, vegetation conditions, management, and climate. This high heterogeneity and interaction of natural and anthropogenic influences makes urban areas ideal laboratories for exploring the sensitivity of biodiversity and ecosystem services to spatial and temporal drivers. Characterizing these relationships in urban systems can thus deepen our conceptual understanding of the links between landscape structure, biodiversity, and ecosystem services more broadly.
Well first of all, we live here! But lab location aside, Montreal is a great place to study urban ecology and sustainability. Montreal is Canada’s second most populous urban area. Greater Montreal has expanded notably recently, with urban sprawl outpacing population growth. Like many Canadian cities, Montreal also experiences – and will continue to face – strong climate change impacts (e.g., increased heat waves/hot nights, frequent and intense rainfall), with biodiversity protection and more urban vegetation recommended for adaptation. To ensure these nature-based solutions are effective, we need to understand the links among green infrastructure, biodiversity, and ecosystem services on the ground. Dominated by high impervious cover, private land, and only 12% traditional green space (parks, cemeteries, nature reserves) the island of Montreal offers a strong case study for determining how to enhance biodiversity and ES in North American cities – particularly with respect to understanding the role of a larger array of green infrastructure types (e.g. residential land, vacant spaces). Conducting research locally also maximizes funding and intellectual resources, and allows for relationship building with local stakeholders. An added bonus - Montreal has one of the largest concentration of ecologists in Canada, and is a growing center of excellence for urban ecology and urban forestry!
We are in the process of launching our research program in Montreal! Please see our join the lab page to get involved in this new phase, and read on for examples of past and ongoing research themes:
Recent and ongoing research themes
Effects of current and historical land-use on urban ecosystem services: Green spaces within cities aren’t just nice to look at – they provide important health and safety benefits. We rely on this urban green infrastructure for cleaner air and water, temperature regulation, flood control, and more. As cities grow to encompass broader spatial areas, there is a need for ecosystem service assessments that consider the complex spatial heterogeneity and land-use history of urban landscapes. In our research, we try to "think beyond the park” to consider the benefits provided by multiple kinds of urban green spaces (including private land), as well as how past land use might continue to influence the ecology of our cities today. This research often involves field and lab work to measure biophysical indicators of ecosystem services, and draws on ecosystem and landscape ecology, historical ecology, and GIS-based approaches.
Recent examples include research with colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to ask how current land-cover, land-use history, and within-land-cover variability affect provision of multiple ecosystem services in a historically agricultural urban landscape. We showed that considering the full mosaic of urban green space and its history is needed to estimate the kinds and magnitude of ecosystem services provided in cities, and to augment regional assessments that may underestimate urban ES supply. We also developed a conceptual framework to hypothesize when land-use legacies might matter for ecosystem service supply in human-dominated landscapes.
Biodiversity-ecosystem service relationships: Biodiversity is changing globally as a result of human activities. At the same time, many of the ecosystem services we rely on for our wellbeing are threatened. These simultaneous shifts in biodiversity and ecosystem services raise the question of how these changes are co-occurring across space, and whether we can develop strategies to create and sustain multifunctional landscapes. Do biodiversity and ecosystem services go hand in hand, or do we need to take different conservation approaches? Our research asks which aspects of biodiversity are most important for maintaining and increasing ecosystem services at spatial and temporal scales relevant to decision-making. We are particularly interested in addressing this question in human dominated areas (e.g. urban areas and working landscapes), which are increasingly recognized not just as sources of negative environmental impact, but also as potential contributors to biodiversity conservation and ecosystem service provision.
Recent work in this area includes the first global synthesis focused on biodiversity-ecosystem service relationships in urban areas, as well as National Geographic funded research on the impacts of urban invasive species in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin Madison Arboretum (including field experiments and citizen science). Past work also includes forest biodiversity research in the Monteregie region of QC in collaboration with scientists at McGill University.
Urban climate change adaptation: Cities are on the front lines of climate change, in terms of both impacts and adaptation. Facing extreme heat and unpredictable weather events, researchers and decision-makers often turn to ecosystem services provided by green infrastructure (e.g. carbon storage, temperature regulation, air quality regulation) as key parts of climate adaptation strategies. Our lab studies climate-related ecosystem services provided by green infrastructure, with a particular focus on the role of urban forests.
Currently, with collaborators at the University of Wisconsin Madison and Concordia University, we are using advanced sensor technology to study the potential of urban forestry to mitigate dangerous urban heat. Improving climate adaptation strategies in cities is critical as climate warms, and understanding how spatial variation in temperature aligns with residents’ lived experience is required. We have developed a custom, bicycle-mounted mobile temperature sensor to ask how variation in impervious surface cover (e.g., roads, parking lots) and canopy cover interact to affect urban air temperature at fine scales. These findings can inform urban planning and contribute to efforts to build more resilient cities in a warming world.
Thanks to all of our past and ongoing research funders: