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Richard Pouyat

USDA Forest Service

Urban Ecology: The Changing Face of Ecology

April 25, 2008
Engineering Building 110, 4:00 PM


Until the late 1990s, our understanding of urban ecological systems in North America was lacking. Research that did occur in urban ecology focused more on ecological processes embedded within cities (i.e., ecology in the city) rather than integrative studies of greater metropolitan areas as biophysical-social complexes (i.e., ecology of the city). In the former case, methodologies, conceptual frameworks, and mathematical ecological models were developed without people explicitly included. In the latter case, an integrated approach allows for feedbacks between the human and biophysical domains. This requires an understanding of human behavior. However, even with the integration of the human and ecological domains, ecologists remain observers from outside the system. This presentation will explore the “human-centered approach” to the study of urban ecological systems, which embeds the ecological community within urban ecological systems. With a human centered approach the ecological community is part of the human ecological system and thus becomes integral to feedback mechanisms. This approach ties the scope and nature of research conducted more closely to societal needs and thus science becomes more influential in the policy decision making process.

Urban Soils—The Brown Infrastructure of Cities and Towns (Noon Talk)

Urban soils provide many ecosystem services to inhabitants of cities and towns. Urbanization affects soils and their capacity to provide ecosystem services directly through disturbance and management (e.g., irrigation), and indirectly through changes in the environment (e.g., heat island effect and pollution) to form a mosaic of soil conditions. In the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES), we utilized the urban mosaic to conduct a series of “natural experiments” to investigate and compare the direct and indirect effects of urbanization on soil properties and biogeochemical responses at neighborhood, citywide, and metropolitan scales. In addition, we compared these results to those obtained from other metropolitan areas to assess the effects at regional and global scales and to assess the generality of these results. From these investigations we conclude that

  1. urban effects on soils occur at multiple scales,
  2. management effects are greater then environment effects,
  3. urban landscapes are biologically active in pervious areas (nitrogen and carbon dynamics) and have a high potential for carbon and nitrogen storage,
  4. the importance of urban and native factors depend on the property being measured, and
  5. city comparisons support the urban ecosystem convergence hypothesis.


Richard Pouyat received his Ph.D in ecology from Rutgers University in 1992 and an M.S. in forest soils and B.S. in forest biology at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry in 1983 and 1980, respectively. Dr. Pouyat is an ecologist/soil scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. He is currently a co-principal investigator of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study; a Long Term Ecological Research site funded by the National Science Foundation. He also is currently serving as Vice President of Public Affairs for the Ecological Society of America. He has broad scientific interests and has used his extensive training in ecology, soil science, and biogeochemistry to investigate urban ecosystems and the effect of urban sprawl on natural systems. Although much of his research is “basic” in nature, he has a strong interest in applying research to the solution of contemporary problems in natural resource management and policy issues, and to integrate the ecological and social sciences.

Previous to his work with the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, Dr. Pouyat worked as a Legislative Assistant for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) in 1997 as part of the Congressional Science Fellowship program. While serving for Senator Moynihan, he co-authored acid deposition legislation and provided scientific expertise for environmental and natural resource management policy issues. More recently, he worked on detail as a Legislative Assistant for Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). For Senator Feinstein his issue areas included forest management and the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.


  1. Science and environmental policy: are the two compatible?
  2. Effects of urban landscape use change on biogeochemical cycles.
  3. Commucating science on Capital Hill: a case for embedded ecologists
  4. Soil, chemical, and physical properties that differentiate urban land-use and cover types.

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