Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Emerging Issues

URBAN ECOLOGY

Jeffrey Brawn

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The ecology of urban and suburban environments is a topic of growing importance in Illinois. Whereas Illinois' landscapes are largely dominated by agriculture, the state also hosts the third largest metropolitan area in North America with over 7 million residents. The Chicago region encompasses 13 counties from 3 states and covers nearly 1.8 million ha. By the year 2020, the population of the Chicago region is expected to increase by 25% to well over 10 million. Perhaps more importantly, the amount of land that will be converted to suburban or urban conditions is expected to increase at a much greater rate. In Will County, for example, urban and suburban land cover is expected to increase from 13% to 63% in the next 25 years.

These trends toward larger populations and sprawl in the Chicago region and elsewhere in Illinois pose significant challenges and opportunities for the conservation of biodiversity, managing wildlife-human conflicts, and increasing public awareness of conservation problems and successes in Illinois through education and outreach.

The conservation opportunities in the Chicago region and other developing areas in Illinois are impressive. Natural habitat is scarce in Illinois; therefore, urban forest preserves, natural areas, and parks conserve significant tracts of habitat. The Chicago region, for example, includes over 80,000 ha of protected lands that include some of the best remaining grasslands, oak savanna, and marsh habitat in Illinois. Understanding how to maintain and restore habitats in protected urban or suburban areas will require diverse, long-term research.

The ecology of protected urban lands is only one facet of a complex research agenda and conservation-related activities. Large concentrations of people inevitably lead to conflicts with wildlife that must be managed and minimized. These problems include overabundant deer, public health issues owing to possible epizootics, and the growing problem of invasive species. Conversely, great densities of people offer excellent opportunities to educate the public about the value of biodiversity and conservation problems associated with urbanization.

Survey scientists are actively involved in a diverse set of activities in Illinois' urban regions. Inevitably, as our urban and suburban areas expand, this research program will grow.

 

INHS Emerging Issues Projects

Ecology of white-tailed deer in urban forest preserves
T. Van Deelen



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