As the world becomes increasingly urbanized, the need for urban wildlife studies is becoming more and more critical for a better understanding of the ecological dynamics of urban systems. Although there exists an increasing familiarity with the impacts of urbanization on wildlife, trends in wildlife studies have yet to be analyzed in a systematic fashion. A joint study performed by Seth B. Magle of the Lincoln Park Zoo, Victoria M. Hunt from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Kevin R. Crooks from Colorado State University found that rates of publication for urban wildlife research have been increasing but still remain relatively low at less than 2% of the total publication volume in the 16 leading journals in animal behavior, conservation, ecology, general science, landscape ecology, and wildlife biology from 1971 through 2010.
One of the key findings in this study was that the majority of urban research was performed in North America, Europe, and Australia. Although these results were expected given the expansive urban development of these continents and the associated research focus of such urban hotspots, the most significant gaps for urban wildlife researchers are in the rapidly urbanizing areas of South America, Africa, and Asia. This finding has significant implications on the conservation problem because these areas are experiencing some of the most rapid population growth rates resulting in urbanization, not to mention the presence of a large number of biodiversity hotspots present in such tropical locations. A language barrier may prevent researchers from publishing in top journals and funding restriction may limit such studies from being carried out, but such research will ultimately be necessary if we want to improve our current understanding of global urban ecology. If we can better understand how our urban centers are affecting the rest of the species we share this planet with, cities will benefit from increased biodiversity, which comes with its own set of advantages, such as an increased supply of ecosystem services and improved human well being.
Researchers found that landscape ecology, wildlife biology, and conservation journals published the highest percentage of urban wildlife publications, while animal behavior, ecology, and general science journals published the lowest percentage of such publications. Another interesting finding was that academics were first-authors on nearly 75% of urban wildlife publications, while government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and private industry rarely directed such research efforts. Most urban research was found to study birds and mammals, while significantly less research was directed at herpetiles, fish, and arthropods.
Despite an increase in urban wildlife research over the years, there is definitely much room for growth. Charismatic species such as birds and mammals are the most studied urban animals, but understudied taxa are arguably just as important for ecosystem function and require further study. Increased suburban and exurban development has accompanied the growth of urban centers, yet suburban wildlife research is clearly lagging behind urban wildlife research. Efforts to further understand wildlife in suburban areas need to be ramped up, as these environments take up at least as much land as urban environments and suburban sprawl is a never-ending process.
Finally, it is important that knowledge of urban wildlife continue to grow, especially in biodiversity rich hotspots such as South America, Africa, and Asia where such urban wildlife research is rare. Because this is a young area of study, much room for advancement remains. Scientists from diverse disciplines will have numerous opportunities to advance this field in the future, and emphasis should be placed on resolving critical gaps present in our understanding of urban wildlife.
Magle, Seth B., Victoria M. Hunt, and Kevin R. Crooks. “Urban Wildlife Research: Past,
Present, and Future.” Biological Conservation 155 (2012): 23-32.