How helpful are urban ponds for biodiversity?

pond-84855_1280Background: Urban ecosystems are becoming increasingly important as areas for biodiversity conservation, as we begin to recognise the importance of preserving natural habitat within heavily modified environments for both wildlife and human well being. Urban ponds are a key part of this network of habitats within cities, and are commonly found in parks, gardens and industrial estates. In fact, there are an estimated 2.5-3.5 million garden ponds in the UK alone, which could have an area the size of Lake Windermere!

What we did: I was invited to submit a review of the biodiversity value of urban ponds. This later expanding beyond simply describing biodiversity patterns to include the ecological processes that generate those patterns. I describe a wide-ranging set of potential negative impacts on urban pond biodiversity, including invasive species, mismanagement, pollution, and habitat destruction.  However, I also took great care to highlight the benefits of these habitats in terms of their use in controlling stormwater, their role in local aesthetics, and the way in which they provide access to nature in inner cities. These ponds can be a fantastic resource if managed well.

Importance: Research on urban water bodies has been growing, and this review highlights both the work that has been done up to now and the gaps in our current knowledge that should be filled in the future.

This is part of a series of short lay summaries that describe the technical publications I have authored.  This paper, entitled “The ecology and biodiversity of urban ponds”, was published in the journal WIREs Water in 2014. You can find this paper at the publisher’s website or for free at Figshare.

Image credit: noitulos, http://bit.ly/1C0x7cA, Public Domain.

Gardens and roofs as nature reserves in cities

I just heard about this brilliant initiative at Sharrow School in Sheffield (less than a mile from the hospital where I was born!).    One of the school buildings has a roof garden which was specifically designed to represent the various habitats that can be found in the local area.  The garden was so successful that the school was able to have it designated as a local nature reserve under UK law.  You can see more details of the school and the building (including the description of the LNR itself and the justification for the designation).  The roof garden was organised by the Green Roof Centre, an organisation based within the University of Sheffield, when building was created in 2007 during the merger of two local schools to form Sharrow School.Read More »

Green space is good for your health (also, Pope is Catholic)

This may not come as a surprise to many, but living in an urban environment may not be great for your mental health…  Being constantly surrounded by hustle and bustle, and constantly plugged in to technologies that keep you connected to work and current events, can be a drain. Now a new study, published in the journal Psychological Science in April 2013 (although I can’t find the actual paper online, yet), has provided yet more evidence for an important role of green space in urban areas for the purposes of enhancing “life satisfaction” and general health.  The study used over 10,000 participants, with data recorded over an 18 year period.

It’s worth noting the limitations of this study – it was epidemiological, which means that a lot of variables were recorded and the authors attempted to tease apart correlations between those variables.  The result is that we cannot infer causation.  For example, a clearer result would have been generated by an empirical approach involving a trial with randomly selected people being placed in either high green space or low green space areas, with their mental health measured before and after.  However, it is worth noting that the authors took huge numbers of variables into account when analysing these data, and the datasets are very large.  All of this suggests that the results are reliable.  They also produced a nice, simple video to explain the results in more detail (a great example of outreach by the researchers involved!):

Photo of Roundhay Park, Leeds, by Green Lane (via Wikimedia Commons)