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Global Sustainability Solutions Services

CAP LTER Research

The central research question that guides the fifth phase of our research program (CAPV) is:

How are human-environment interactions mediated by urban ecological infrastructure (UEI) to shape the social-ecological urban ecosystem—past, present, and future? How can we use knowledge of these relationships to inform more just, transformative, and sustainable futures?

The overarching goal is to foster social-ecological urban research aimed at understanding urban ecosystems using a holistic, ecology of cities perspective while contributing to an ecology for cities approach to enhance urban sustainability.

We have six, broad program objectives:

  • Use ecological and social data to answer new questions requiring long-term perspectives;
  • develop and use models and scenarios through participatory, community-based strategies;
  • advance urban ecological theory while contributing new theory derived from transdisciplinary research;
  • promote and strengthen environmental justice using broadly inclusive approaches to CAP science and outreach;
  • build and use transdisciplinary partnerships to foster resilience and enhance sustainability in urban ecosystems while contributing to the education and well-being of urban dwellers of all types, ages, and experiences; and,
  • Adaptively manage CAP research and how work with communities of practice is framed.

Conceptual Model

Our CAPV conceptualization of the urban ecosystem reflects: 1) an enhanced focus on urban heterogeneity–both ecological and social–across various spatial scales in the urban landscape (from the parcel scale to the entire central Arizona region, including Tribal Nations); 2) a more coordinated and interdisciplinary focus on our 12 key study neighborhoods and the people and parcels that comprise them; 3) enhanced partnerships and collaborations with our study neighborhoods and decision-makers in several municipalities in the metro area–which we call communities of practice; 4) a focus on human/environment interactions and feedbacks; and 5) our continued focus on UEI as a construct to connect social and ecological dynamics, but now with emphasis on a UEI hybridity gradient from the purely ecological to the largely built.

Follow CAP LTER researchers as they take you through their solutions-oriented, long-term projects throughout Central Arizona. Learn about topics such as urban heat and design, wetlands, stormwater, scenarios and more.

Major findings from several of our research initiatives are summarized under Research Highlights.

Our research has transformed the scientific understanding of urban ecosystems and approaches for conducting research on the ecology of the city.

Long-term monitoring and experiments are at the core of CAP LTER’s research program. They enable CAP scientists to examine changes over time, particularly in ecological variables that are slow cycling.

Twenty-eight research sites constitute the LTER Network at present. The geographic distribution of sites ranges from Alaska to Antarctica and from the Caribbean to French Polynesia.

Research Questions

Research under CAPV will address the following research questions:

  • 1) How do the collective activities of a heterogeneous urban population influence the structure and function of ecosystems at local to regional scales, including benefits and feedbacks to those people?
  • 2) How do differences in organismal life-history traits, over short- and long-time scales, respond to and shape eco-evolutionary dynamics and evolutionary responses (e.g. via plasticity, adaptation) to human-induced changes in climate, resources, and niche availability in urban environments?
  • 3) What are the spatial and temporal relationships between heterogeneous urban ecological infrastructure (UEI) and urban heat, air, and water, and how do UEI influences on these parameters affect people, plants, and animals?
  • 4) How can co-production with communities of practice integrate the multiple ways people experience nature–expressed through perceptions, management decisions, and wellbeing–as it is shaped by the distribution of UEI and associated the ecosystem services and ecosystem disservices (ES/EDS)?
  • 5) How does governance—and associated institutions, values, and knowledge—shape past, current, and future transformational capacities, and how do those capacities affect the (in)equitable distribution of UEI and associated ES/EDS?

Interdisciplinary Research Themes

Our work is organized across five Interdisciplinary Research Themes (IRTs), each of which correspond with one of our five research questions. Their memberships are listed under People.

  • Ecosystem Structure & Functioning (Leads: Becky Ball, Nancy Grimm, and Heather Throop)
  • Adapting to City Life (Leads: Sara Meerow, Kevin McGraw, and Chris Schell)
  • Urban Climate & Air Quality (Leads: Christina Fuller, Hilairy Hartnett, and David Hondula)
  • Environment & Human Wellbeing (Leads: Heather Bateman, Paul Coseo, and Michelle Hale)
  • Governance & Just Transitions (Leads: Marta Berbés, Elizabeth Cook, David Iwaniec, Sara Meerow, Jennifer Vanos, and Abigail York)