The Minor Lab

UIC University of Illinois at Chicago

URBAN LANDSCAPE ECOLOGY

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RESEARCH OVERVIEW

As landscape ecologists, we are interested in environmental patterns at broad spatial scales and how those patterns affect ecological processes and systems. We are particularly interested in how the complex interactions between people and their environment alter these patterns and processes. Below are some past and ongoing research themes in the lab.

dandelion wood thrush Triangle graph

ECOLOGICAL COMMUNITIES IN HUMAN-DOMINATED LANDSCAPES:

Why species are present in some locations and absent in others is one of the oldest questions in ecology, but answering it today is complicated by the anthropogenic effects that pervade our environment. Ecologists have only begun to address the effects of anthropogenic disturbance and urbanization on distributions of plants and animals.  Some species thrive in human-dominated environments, others vanish, and the rest show a range of intermediate responses, but the mechanisms behind these responses remain largely unknown. If we are to mitigate the effects of human development on species distributions, we must first understand them. Work in the lab ranges on species from plants to birds to bees.

For more information:

Urban Pollination Project web page

Minor et al. 2009. The role of landscape connectivity in assembling exotic plant communities: a network analysis. Ecology 90 (7): 1802-1809. PDF.

Minor, E.S. and D.L. Urban. 2010. Forest bird communities across a gradient of human development. Urban Ecosystems 13: 51-71. PDF

Davis et al. 2012. Green infrastructure and bird diversity across an urban socioeconomic gradient. Ecosphere 3(11): 1-18. PDF

Matteson et al. 2013. Direct and indirect effects of land use on floral resources and flower-visiting insects across an urban landscape. Oikos 122: 682-694. PDF


MEASURING LANDSCAPE CONNECTIVITY USING GRAPH THEORY (OR NETWORK ANALYSIS):

Graph theory (sometimes called network analysis) is the mathematical study of connectivity or flow in networks. Graph theory has been applied in many disciplines and has recently been recognized as a useful measure of landscape connectivity for ecological studies. A graph consists of a set of nodes and connections. In a landscape, habitat patches are the nodes and connectivity is defined by measured movement of organisms between patches. For example, two habitat patches that have seed dispersal between them would be connected while patches beyond dispersal range would not be connected.  If movement of seeds is predictable based on distance or environmental conditions, a graph can be created to represent landscape connectivity from the perspective of a specific plant. The topology of that graph then allows predictions to be made about the locations on the landscape that most affect patterns of movement – i.e., hubs or bottlenecks – and, thus, most suitable for management. These concepts can also be applied to animal movement or flow of nutrients or materials. Graph theory is ideal for studying these issues because it has minimal data requirements, a very efficient data structure, and many published algorithms that allow for quick and easy analyses of complex landscapes.

For more information:

Minor, E.S. and D.L. Urban. 2007. Graph theory as a proxy for spatially explicit population models in conservation planning. Ecological Applications 17 (6): 1771-1782. PDF

Minor, E.S. and D.L. Urban. 2008. A graph theory framework for evaluating landscape connectivity and conservation planning. Conservation Biology 22 (2): 297-307. PDF

Urban, D.L, E.S. Minor, E.A. Treml, R S. Schick. 2009. Graph models of habitat mosaics. Ecology Letters 12: 260-273. PDF

Minor, E.S. and T.R. Lookingbill. 2010. A Multiscale Network Analysis of Protected-Area Connectivity for Mammals in the United States. Conservation Biology 24: 1549-1558. PDF


INVASIONS IN FRAGMENTED AND URBAN LANDSCAPES:

Landscape fragmentation and exotic species invasions are two modern-day forces that have strong and largely irreversible effects on native diversity worldwide. Unfortunately, we have limited knowledge about how invasive species spread in fragmented landscapes. Lab members are particularly intrigued by how spatial patterns of spread are affected by different dispersal modes of invaders. This information would greatly improve our ability to anticipate, slow, and possibly prevent spread into previously uninvaded areas. Because pattern and rate of spread is thought to be related to landscape connectivity, we have used graph theory (see above) to examine the effects of connectivity on the distribution and spread of exotic plants in Antietam National Battlefield. We have also been working with local collaborators to study the distribution and spread of the monk parakeet throughout the Chicago region. More details about the Chicago Parakeet Project can be found here.

For more information:

Minor, E.S., T. Lookingbill, K. Engelhardt, and S. Tessel. 2009. The role of landscape connectivity in assembling exotic plant communities: a network analysis. Ecology 90 (7): 1802-1809. PDF.

Minor, E.S. and R. H. Gardner. 2011. Landscape connectivity and seed dispersal characteristics inform the best management strategy for exotic plants. Ecological Applications 21(3): 739-749. PDF

Pruett-Jones, S. et al. 2012. Urban parakeets in northern Illinois: A 40-year perspective. In press with Urban Ecosystems. PDF

Minor et al. 2012. Distribution of exotic monk parakeets across an urban landscape. Urban Ecosystems 15: 979-991. PDF

Davis, A.Y., N. Malas, E.S. Minor. Substitutable habitats? The biophysical and anthropogenic drivers of an exotic bird's distribution. In press with Biological Invasions. PDF


SPATIAL DISTRIBUTION OF ECOSYSTEM SERVICES

Ecosystem services are the benefits that humans derive from nature. As defined by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, there are four kinds of ecosystem services: provisioning services such as food, water, timber, and fiber; regulating services that affect climate, floods, disease, wastes, and water quality; cultural services that provide recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual benefits; and supporting services such as soil formation, photosynthesis, and nutrient cycling. The spatial distribution of these services (e.g., where they are located on the ground, whether they are clumped or widely dispersed, etc.) may be important in some cases and not in others. We are particularly interested in how these services are distributed in cities, where natural areas are minimal and access by certain groups of people may be limited. There are several ongoing projects in the lab that specifically examine the spatial distribution of ecosystem services. One, the Urban Pollination Project, is an effort to map pollination services along with socioeconomic factors around Chicago. Another project involves helping the Illinois EPA create a green infrastructure plan for stormwater management. The Illinois EPA project is being conducted in collaboration with a research group at UIC (including Moira Zellner, Miquel Gonzalez Meler, and Marty Jaffe) and partners in the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, and the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program. Finally, Amélie Davis is working on the Chicago ULTRA-ex project, which examines connections between biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services in an urban area.

For more information:

Jaffe, M. et al. 2010. Using green infrastructure to manage urban stormwater quality: A review of selected practices and state programs. Report submitted to Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. PDF

Zellner et al. How effective is green infrastructure for urban stormwater management? In review with Landscape and Urban Planning. Abstract

Davis et al. 2012. Green infrastructure and bird diversity across an urban socioeconomic gradient. Ecosphere 3(11): 1-18. PDF


CONSERVATION IN THEORY AND PRACTICE

Conservation can be very challenging in human-dominated landscapes given habitat fragmentation, land use and land cover change, exotic species, and various competing human interests. Several past and current projects in the lab examine conservation for various species and at various spatial scales. Some work, such as Amy's work on whooping crane stopover sites, is quite applied. Other projects are more theoretical in nature. One ongoing project in the lab addresses conservation from the human, rather than the ecological, perspective. This project, in collaboration with LEAP cohort 4, Daniel Goldfarb at the Wildlife Habitat Council, and the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, used social surveys to understand interactions between various environmental groups working in the Calumet Region of Chicago.

For more information:

Minor, E.S. and D.L. Urban. 2008. A graph theory framework for evaluating landscape connectivity and conservation planning. Conservation Biology 22 (2): 297-307. PDF

Minor, E.S. and T.R. Lookingbill. 2010. A Multiscale Network Analysis of Protected-Area Connectivity for Mammals in the United States. Conservation Biology 24: 1549-1558. PDF

Belaire, J.A., A.K. Dribin, D.P. Johnston, D.J. Lynch, and E.S. Minor. 2011. Mapping stewardship networks in urban ecosystems. In press with Conservation Letters. Conservation Letters 4: 464-473. PDF

Belaire, J.A., B.R. Kreakie, T. Keitt, E.S. Minor. Whooping crane stopover habitat in the central US: using random forests to guide site selection for wind energy projects. In press with Conservation Biology. PDF


CITIZEN SCIENCE AND URBAN ECOLOGY

Citizen science allows scientists to answer questions they otherwise would not be able to answer. Large numbers of data collectors spread over a broad geographical area is a landscape ecologist's dream! Engaging the public in science also has other wonderful benefits for scientists and citizens. Several projects in the lab make use of publicly-available data collected by citizen scientists. Other projects have enlisted the help of Chicago residents to collect data. We have also studied the effectiveness of different citizen science approaches for collecting data in urban areas. We hope to continue to use data collected by citizen scientists in the future.

For more information:

Matteson et al. 2012. Assessing Citizen Contributions to Butterfly Monitoring in Two Large Cities. Conservation Biology 26: 557-564. PDF

Pruett-Jones, S. et al. 2012. Urban parakeets in northern Illinois: A 40-year perspective. In press with Urban Ecosystems. PDF

Minor et al. 2012. Distribution of exotic monk parakeets across an urban landscape. Urban Ecosystems 15: 979-991. PDF