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Biodiversity Wednesday: Emerging Habitats

A growing number of scholars now say that we live in an era known as the Anthropocene. Yes, this means that something fundamental about how the earth and its ecosystems function has shifted because of human activities. A quick history of the term shows that admitting to this shift also means admitting to the blame that humans arguably deserve. However, step away from that finger-pointing blame stance for a minute. If humans have fundamentally changed the earth’s geology, doesn’t that mean we’re looking at all sorts of new habitats and opportunities for evolution to create new critters? Yes, yes it does.

Humans have created all sorts of new spaces, from the cement heat bubbles of cities to the unending acreage of corn and soy in the American midwest. These are entirely new ecosystems. As I remember from a talk by Steven Long a few years ago, ‘Why do I study corn? Because that’s the ecosystem of Illinois now”.

The biggest and most notable new system is in urban systems, from people creating small farms on their roofs (sometimes complete with bees) or ‘nanofarms’ on their small yard. Some cities, like Shanghai, now create a substantial amount of their own food within their city limits. Some scholars even refer to a city’s metabolism, treating the whole city as a single organism.

But as the relatively new field of urban ecology attests to, these urban ecosystems are a whole new biome and potentially have much to offer city humans, in terms of both resources and access to nature.