Cities and Wildlife: Can the Two Work Together?

The human population is ever-increasing. Most people across world’s regions are already living in cities, and by 2050 as much as two thirds of the global human population will be found living in cities1. This means that cities are ever expanding and increasingly encroaching on natural landscapes to make space for a growing urban population. How is wildlife coping with the expansion of cities? Does biodiversity stand a chance in the urban jungles?

Maybe it does. For instance, a recent study found that species like bumblebees seem to have higher reproductive success in cities compared to agricultural landscapes2. The authors of the research suggest that low-intensity urban areas are most valuable to bee populations due to the combination of abundant gardens and proximity to semi-natural habitat. Moreover, bees in urban areas may also be subject to lower pesticide exposure.

Building bee highways in Oslo. Image credits:

Noteworthily, some cities are trying to enhance their urban biodiversity by engaging in sustainable or “green” development. For instance, Norway’s capital Oslo is setting off as an example by creating “bee highways” to protect endangered pollinators, which are essential to food production3. From flower-emblazoned cemeteries to rooftop gardens and balconies, Oslo is creating corridors and encouraging the conservation of bee populations, as well as of other insect species, which may also attract other wildlife to the city, increasing urban biodiversity indexes. Oslo’s approach to conserving its natural areas and promoting biodiversity conservation is just one of the many reasons why the Norwegian city won the European Green Capital Award for 20194.

Another noteworthy example is London, UK that with a population of over 8 million people is the first city in the world to have been named a National Park City5. From sea horses to seals, porpoises and eels in the river Thames6, which cuts the city in half, to peregrine falcons, red deer, otters, king fishers, dozens of species of butterflies, hundreds of different types of spiders, and thousands of different kinds of moths on the land7.

Red deer in Richmond Park, London. Image credits:

Small or herbivore animals are not the only ones keeping up with an urban life. For instance, in Rome, Italy, a wildlife charity has been monitoring the return and stable presence of a pack of wolves in the area, in the last few years8.

While the expansion of cities may not be stopped nor hindered due to the pressure and demands of an increasing human population, green urban development can help promote the conservation of biodiversity even in such densely-populated landscapes.

While not all wildlife may be able to adapt to cities – including some bat species9 –  our ability to make cities more liveable not only for people but for other species too may ultimately be a decisive factor in whether several species will survive or go extinct in the next few decades.

Wolf pups; Rome outskirts. Sept 2018.

Nonetheless, especially on the outskirts of expanding cities, greater rates of human-wildlife encounters may lead to greater levels of conflict, and this issue may necessitate increasing attention by management.

Similarly, new or exacerbated conservation issues may also emerge for wildlife near cities, including potentially higher rates of anthropogenic hybridisation between dogs and wolves. For instance, the wolf pack that recently returned roaming the Roman landscapes interbred with local free-ranging dogs, and gave birth to a hybrid litter which management is now considering to remove to avoid deleterious consequences for the conservation of wild wolves10.

Cities are a double-edged sword in conservation; while they may act as wildlife reservoir if developed sustainably, there are high risks that wildlife and people will not be able to coexist, or that initiatives will not be developed quickly or comprehensively enough, for biodiversity to thrive.

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  2. Samuelson, A.E., Gill, R.J., Brown, M.J. and Leadbeater, E., 2018. Lower bumblebee colony reproductive success in agricultural compared with urban environments. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences285(1881), p.20180807
  9. Coleman, J.L. and Barclay, R.M., 2011. Influence of urbanization on demography of little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) in the prairies of North America. PLoS One6(5), p.e20483

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