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Urbanization Has Removed Most Native EcoSystems

Downtown Dallas with the Trinity River in the background at a dangerous flood level. Concrete & buildings alter the natural watersheds of urban areas.
Downtown Dallas with the Trinity River in the background at a dangerous flood level. Photo by RuthAnn Jackson.

Published June 2, 2001 By ARBORILOGICAL SERVICES


Urbanization is expanding at an alarming rate throughout the world. Humans are increasingly becoming the stewards of the urban landscape, even if we don’t realize it! We plant flowers, trees, ground covers, and turf that provide habitat for a multitude of wildlife species. The human spirit desires landscapes with at least some degree of natural influence, and wildlife is a major factor that provides this experience.

The urban landscape provides habitat for a wide variety of fauna. From migrating songbird, and butterflies - to the occasional raccoon, deer, and coyote - to the herptiles, invertebrates, and fish. The opportunity exists to provide these wonderful critters with the variables they need to lead productive lives.

Urbanization has removed most native ecosystems in areas where these systems were once found. Due to the lack of the cyclical natural processes that once took place in these areas, urban wildlife management attempts to provide the variables these natural ecosystems once did. Managing the habitats of wildlife is the critical and most basic concept for the urban landscape. This activity involves manipulating food, cover, water, and space in the appropriate proportions and distributions.

Dependable food resources are not provided through artificial or supplemental feedings to the desired wildlife species. Food resources are maintained by manipulating plant successional stages to provide for a desirable vegetation structure of food plants. This means that all plants; of all shapes and sizes, could potentially provide food resources for a multitude of wildlife species. Oak, Pecan, and Walnut trees produce mast that feed squirrels, urban deer herds, and weevils. Native grasses used in the landscape provide seeds for birds, and mice. By allowing a multiple layer of plants (from mature trees to even mosses, algae, and fungi) to propagate in your landscape, you can develop a wide variety of food resources year round.

Cover provides wildlife with areas to evade predators and build homes. Quality cover is promoted by producing a wide variety of plant layers that can potentially allow for many species to inhabit. For example, mature trees are utilized by squirrels to build nests and raise their young. Cedar trees provide excellent cover for songbirds when used as nesting sites or wind breaks during cold winter spells. Ground cover provides homes for invertebrates and herptiles. The term “cover” includes a wide variety of habitats and is not limited to just vegetated areas. Look around your neighborhood and make a mental list of the cover types you see.

Providing unpolluted water in adequate quantity is necessary to maintain any natural system. Concreted areas and buildings have completely altered the natural watersheds of urban areas. Channeling creeks, rivers, and storm runoff does a great job of removing potential water resources for wildlife. If the opportunity exists to maintain wetland or standing water areas on your property, do so! You will be amazed at the amount of life concentrated around these moisture gradients! Water resources are also important as breeding grounds for amphibians and invertebrates. Water sources do not always have to come in large quantities. For example, pockets in trees that hold water are an excellent water source for a wide variety of species.

All wildlife species need space. Open fields and underdeveloped areas are sanctuaries for the urban critter. These areas are great places to leave dead or “snag” trees. Snags are important because they allow for cavities to be easily created, and nesting sites to be built by birds, flying squirrels, and owls. Dead and dying trees also attract insects and provide home for these amazing creatures.  Creating space in the urban environment does not necessarily mean you need to have native areas near your house, it means providing for organisms other than humans in the urban environment. These spaces allow for hawks to hunt, raccoons to prowl, and skinks to slink. Every time you pass an open area, think of the plethora of biotic life that is found there.

Many people consider the urban landscape to be devoid of any biotic potential, but that is not the case. I sincerely hope this article has spurned your interest in protecting and providing for urban wildlife habitats and species. The enrichment these critters bring to you and your children’s lives is immeasurable.

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Arborilogical Services

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