NCSU Class Discussion

The role of frameworks and models is very important for the book chapter, “Building an Urban LTSER: The Case of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study and the D.C./B.C Ultra-Ex Project.” Figure 16.6 offers an example of data types that can be used in urban ecological research and divides the research by scale, intensity of analysis, and data type. The examples are further identified by how data can be collected or found. This framework is useful in considering the multitudes of data that can be collected for a system, but the framework is not set in stone. Many of the data types can be collected on different ways and on different scales.


The press-pulse dynamic was revisited in this chapter. A research-management cycle was also brought into the chapter and offers yet another way to consider the role of science and data in an urban ecosystem. Frameworks may be best thought of as tools that aid in our understanding of systems or processes. An example from Kruger National Park and strategic adaptive management was considered. For research and management to work there must be an evaluation of process. Wildlife populations should be managed within thresholds with both minimums and maximums. Ongoing data collection would need to inform management of population and decisions can be made from observations.

A book chapter allows for a more personal narrative of how research programs come into being and the roles that major actors play. This chapter highlights the success of the Baltimore LTSER and its associated ULTRA-Ex. Long-term ecological research (LTER) have been important sites for ecological research. Long-term ecological data may be difficult for some researchers, such as graduate students, but is very important considering the process times within ecological systems. There has been a more recent emphasis on social research and the attempt of some LTERs to shift towards long term socio-ecological research (LTSER). The United States Forest Service (USFS) realized that the health of American forests is tied to the process of urbanization. USFS eventually became a major funding agency of urban ecosystem research sites that became known as urban long-term research areas (ULTRAs). ULTRAs were spread across the 5 regions that the USFS operates in. Ideal ULTRAs would set up platforms that would draw in researchers and new funding opportunities.

BU Class Discussion Before Presentation

We started our discussion by thinking about the nature of urban social-ecological research. Early urban ecologists were very disciplinary, a point well highlighted by Grove's book chapter. Ecologists documented the ecology in cities using their standard tools, and over time began layering their questions outward to examine the ecology of cities. Importantly, ecologists did not re-conceptualize their dimensions; they layered them. One big question remaining for urban ecologists is: are urban processes fundamentally different from the analogous processes that happen in nature? If so, our ecological toolkit is inadequate to fully capture the complexity of the city. If not, how do we best integrate tools from the social sciences to capture that complexity?

Presentation by Morgan Grove

The process of how long-term socio-ecological research came to Baltimore was non-linear and organic. The beginning was in 1988 with origins in social forestry. Some tenants of social forestry:
  • Social forestry is problem-oriented, theory driven, produce useful knowledge.
  • More than growing trees.
  • Social- group formation and collective action, sustainable structures and value systems
  • Employ social and ecological concepts, concerns, and data.
  • Do not blame humans. But the discipline is problem-oriented. New technologies and getting rid of people are two poles that are not the solutions
  • Mutual learning and service. Scientists can provide information for decision makers.

Human Ecosystem framework- History in sociology going back to the 1950s. POET system (populations, organizations, environments, and technology)

Human Ecosystem Flows- Critical resources are recognizable but some (like myth) are not. Social systems are important. How do resources flow through social systems? Who, what, when, and why? We need to have all these ideas in our head as we think about places like a vacant lot or a watershed.

Watershed approach for Baltimore ecosystem- Long term research did not seem attainable but seemed like an interesting idea. Study the watershed as an interdisciplinary work. Variable source area approach- different patches and different characterizations. Abiotic, biotic, and social differentiations. Biotic and abiotic variables were known to have altered water flows of a watershed. So add social differences. Inclusion of environmental justice? Social, ecological importance- leads to policy questions like the need for clean water.

Linking Science and Decision Making- Adaptive management with inputs from science. This process is cyclical. Water cycles changing in urban environments. Hi-res land cover- can look at city in a different way. Bring in more and more types of scientists. Scientists ask questions that they think they can answer. Policy makers ask questions that they need answered. Scientists have been challenged and provoked by policy makers.

Map Site- Highlands of Laos a lot like Baltimore. Community foresters in Laos being affected by international markets. Poor GIS led Laos government to believe that many forests were vacant and not actively managed. But villagers use hundreds of non-timber products. These patches were being sold off by the government. But many hydro, ecological, and social dimensions to the villages visited in Laos. People and economics differ throughout a watershed. Key to think in interdisciplinary research and long-term interdisciplinary research.

Geographic informatics can be used at multiple scales. Can analyze and illicit information from people. Map as a tool to gain knowledge from local people. Democratizing information. People are good at looking at maps and thinking spatially.

Ecology of Cities- Previous research had been on analogs of forests. Move towards the ecology of cities. Understand the entire mosaic of the city. Analogies are still useful. Ecology of cities is important to understanding of sustainability. Managers need to get out of parks and into the rest of the city.

  • Social scientists with ecological exposure and expertise. Ability to think at multiple scales.
  • Interdisciplinary walkabouts. Talk about ecosystems, plants, hydrology, storm water in the city. Ask what is going on in the city? Builds collaboration. Interdisciplinary- do you guys go out and talk about things?
  • Interest between city and NGOs. Respect is mutual.
  • Science and decision-making. Embrace the links. Work with both.
  • Long-term research is important. What is the value of long term data? Allows long term data to view the object of study under different conditions. Watershed under wet, dry, hot, whatever conditions. Useful in other social and ecological systems. Can see inertias, legacies in cities- racism and environmental justice in Baltimore. Short and long term changes in cities, and which changes are slow or fast.

Post presentation Discussion

  • Must the studies start with ecology? In Baltimore there was already a start in social sciences. In rural sociology there are already emphasis in both people and ecological systems. Who starts is not as important as who is on the team. People need to be able to communicate, there may be an overemphasis on common language. Walkabouts lead to be better understanding of what everyone sees. Developing a team is not a mechanical experience. Putting a team together is like putting together a jazz team. Need to be able to work together.

  • Interest in water quality. Where is water and where are poor and non-poor areas? Do they connect back to the watershed? Think about connectivity of people and neighborhoods.

  • Urban system in Baltimore. Rural forestry had not been aware of patch dynamics and landscape ecology. There is not usually a data infrastructure for looking at watershed in other countries. Use smaller scales so maps are used to figure things out. So watershed use was a novel advance at the time.

  • Connect with community or people. Watershed 263- neighborhoods where homicide in the water takes place. These places became areas for water restoration plants. Consider development of neighborhoods over time and how people think about their neighborhood over time.

  • Frameworks can work well for some situations and not as well for others. Water in Baltimore does not track over land, and does not adequately inflitrate. Water went through pipes and was pumped away. People's lawns were becoming riparian environments. Urban tree canopy goals were set for cities in the Chesapeake Bay. Land cover maps were necessary for determining feasibility of objectives. Baltimore needed more than street trees to meet goals. Need residential lands to become more covered to meet goals. Lifestyle affects how much vegetation is on residential lands. How do you motivate private residential landowners to retain tree coverage? Cycles of new data, then policy and policy questions, new data, and then more policy stuff.

  • Usefulness of long-term funding in urban environments. Advice to survival in a politically tumultuous world. The Forest Service is still committed to long term urban research. Regional research stations are valuable assets. NSF proposals for urban sustainability will be forthcoming. It is hard, previous funders have started to pull back. Not due to the merit or the performance of previous ULTRAs.

Boston University Post presentation Discussion

Based on Morgan Grove’s guest lecture, Professor Hutyra challenged us with an applicable urban social ecological research problem that would resemble our midterm examination. We were given 30 minutes to work in groups to answer the following question “what are the time-space variations in the exchange of greenhouse gases in Boston?” Factors we had to consider were:

What is spatial domain?

What are the key time scales?

Who are the key stakeholder groups?

What are the key social drivers?

How will the sampling be done? Where? When? For how long?

What are the key pools and fluxes that need to be considered?

How will the results be scaled?

Depending on how each group chose to approach the question, answers varied for each factor. For example, some groups chose to define the domain using Boston’s metropolitan statistical area, whereas another group, that chose to examine the question is relation to transportation emissions, chose to define their domain by the parameters of I-91 highway. Overall, it was determined that a question with such breadth is very difficult to answer, so a more defined approach should be taken.

Afterwards, we discussed different social science methods for gathering data such as utilizing census data, surveys, structured interviews, and charettes. It was suggested that surveys are not the best initial method for data collection, and that perhaps an interview first and then a survey, based gathered information, may be more effective.


Janet Felts: I really liked the presentation on building an interdisciplinary urban LTSER and discussion with Morgan Grove this week. Taking us step-by-step in the process of establishing an urban LTSER really gave me insight into what it takes to build a socio-ecological research center, a concept that was new to me. In our class discussion, we also discussed the “stone-soup metaphor” in that if you establish the location (platform) and process of research, then the funding will follow. This indicates the researchers’ belief that a good research foundation should secure funding despite the fact that funding is limited and not guaranteed to come. It seems as if interdisciplinary research is important to the overall implications of the results, but not as easy to cooperate and produce results. It makes me wonder if a strictly science-based research center might be easier to operate or receive funding, and then work with other interdisciplinary groups once the funding has been provided and the data has been collected? Or is that what was happening before the emergence of the importance of interdisciplinary work and it wasn’t successful then?
Another major point emphasized by Morgan Grove is the transition from Ecology in Cities to Ecology of Cities, meaning there should be a shift in thinking of cities as made up of many different ecosystems to thinking of cities as a whole cohesive ecosystem, a concept we have also discussed earlier in the semester. I also liked Morgan Grove’s comparison of how Laos is like Baltimore, a relationship that I would have never considered.

Eric Thompson:
I feel like so much of this semester has emphasized theories and models and abstract thought and how things should be done. Although this week included plenty of that, I really appreciated the stories of how things have been done, and the detailed consideration of the human interactions that drive the processes. It’s easy to forget that studies are done by people, and that interdisciplinary studies are done by interdisciplinary teams. Dr. Grove talked about social characteristics of members of interdisciplinary teams and how introverts don’t do well. The reading described the history of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study and described how the process involved specific people meeting other specific people under certain conditions. The story explained how the partnering of disciplines occurs with by the partnering of people, which I had not considered before listening to Morgan Grove and George Hess from the previous week. I had kind of envisioned the process in my head as some agency decides they want to do an interdisciplinary project, and then they go and recruit people from relevant fields in the way that a contractor hires a crew to build a house. But now I can envision that sometimes it’s more like an architect meets a carpenter whose brother-in-law has an extra spool of steel cable and owes him a favor, and together they can make the coolest tree house ever. You just naturally want to spend time around people whose personalities you like, and those are the folks you start chatting up about what they’re studying and you make plans to spend more time together. It’s the kind of story that makes you want to go to conferences. We discussed how scientists ask questions that they think they can answer and policy makers ask questions that they need answered. I guess you have to go out and look for people who are asking the same kinds of questions that you are, but from a different angle. If you two get along, you’ve got the start of a team.

I also liked Dr. Grove’s suggestion of walkabouts as a way to develop a common understanding instead of focusing on language. In addition to precise definitions and detailed theories and models that explain exactly what you are and are not talking about, sometimes the park planner and the stream ecologist just need to go around town and poke the dirt with a stick to really understand what the other is talking about. Like the example of this class--It's wonderful to have the collection of brilliant minds beamed across the country to collaborate for this class, and it's important to have that opportunity. But sometimes I just want to go outside and look at a storm drain beside someone's lawn and talk about what's going on.