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The Central Arizona–Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research program (CAP LTER) is one of 28 LTER sites funded by the National Science Foundation. Launched in 1997, CAP is a research platform that includes scientists from a variety of disciplines focused on understanding cities as hybrid ecosystems that include both environmental and human components, and their interactions.

CAP’s central research question articulates the interconnectedness of human motivations, behaviors, actions, and outcomes with urban ecosystem structure and function: How do the ecosystem services provided by urban ecological infrastructure (UEI) affect human outcomes and behavior, and how do human actions affect patterns of urban ecosystem structure and function and, ultimately, urban sustainability and resilience? A new theoretical focus for CAP is on Urban Ecological Infrastructure (UEI) as a critical bridge between the system’s biophysical and human/social domains. UEI is thus central in the conceptual framework that guides all CAP activities.

CAP researchers explore new social-ecological frontiers of interdisciplinary urban ecology in residential landscapes, urban waterbodies, desert parks and preserves, the flora, fauna, and climate of a “riparianized” desert city, and urban design and governance. CAP research is organized around eight interdisciplinary questions and researchers are organized into eight Interdisciplinary Research Teams to address these questions. And CAP now includes research in its broader societal impacts, with a theoretical focus on the nexus of ecology and design to enhance urban sustainability and resilience. This focus, combined with ongoing CAP scenarios work, is the translational link between social-ecological research outcomes and city institutions, ultimately making Phoenix, and cities in general, better places to live.

The scientific objectives that guide CAP research are:

1) To use long-term data to articulate and answer new questions about cities that require a long-term perspective;

2) To develop and use models and scenarios to help answer research questions;

3) To employ existing urban ecological knowledge and articulate new theories about urban ecosystems; and

4) To build broad partnerships to make cities more resilient and sustainable places to while educating urban dwellers of all ages and experiences.

Ecology Explorers, CAP’s premier education program, connects teachers and pre-college students with CAP scientists and research. CAP is expanding its involvement of Phoenix residents in scientific research by working with several community partners and numerous municipal agencies. And CAP’s large, diverse, and rich database continues to be a valuable and growing resource for U.S. scientists and students, researchers world-wide, city managers and decision makers, teachers, and the general public.



National Science Foundation, grant nos. BCS-1026865, DEB-0423704, DEB-9714833, and DEB-1637590


August 1997 — November 2022