Environmental Stewardship Project




Latest Research


How have institutional efforts to re-green public and private urban lands affected the provision of ecosystem services, the engagement of civic stewards, and the capacity of the system to support biological communities? This project examines the links between the growth and change of urban green space, the capacity of those spaces to support biological communities and provide ecosystem services such as thermoregulation, and how stewardship happens in a diverse urban setting. It integrates recent advances within the fields of the natural and social sciences into the interdisciplinary Human Ecosystem Framework to advance our understanding of urban social and ecological systems, focusing specifically on the drivers that cross social and ecological boundaries.  The project will test a set of hypotheses that center on the relationships between the actions of the managers and stewards who maintain the urban forest, the ecological processes that govern its abundance, diversity and suitability as habitat, and a key societal service it provides: thermoregulation of urban microclimate.  These hypotheses will be tested using parallel multi-scale, multi-temporal spatial analyses of stewardship group activities and evolution of the urban forest in New York City over the past 25 years. The analyses will make use of satellite-derived land cover maps, social survey and interview data, and plot level vegetation and faunal data. These data will be incorporated in spatial analyses of fragmentation and connectivity, using a spatially explicit metapopulation framework to assess urban ecosystem function. The project's objective is to understand the links between stewardship, ecological processes and ecosystem services in ways that directly inform stakeholders, managers and policy makers.  It is funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation ULTRA-Ex program.

It is increasingly understood that urban green space provides a number of societal benefits in addition to providing habitat for a diverse range of plants and animals. These benefits include regulation of the local temperature, the cleaning of air and water, reduction in storm-water runoff (and associated sewage system overflows), and the physical and psychological benefits to humans of being close to and interacting with nature. Most cities are actively promoting the provision of green space and the increase in forest canopy with the help of civic stewardship groups. To date, much more research is needed to understand the ways that local peoples steward their communities.  The primary goal of this project is to study the links between the efforts and goals of stewardship organizations, the development of the green space itself (and its associated flora and fauna), and a particular service it provides (temperature regulation). The secondary goal is to provide a set of methods for this kind of analysis that can be used thereafter to study other services, other cities, or both. The location of this project in New York City means that we can take advantage of an unparalleled collection of pre-existing data, a comprehensive survey of organizations devoted to environmental stewardship, the city's dense and diverse human population, and a variety of city-led planting efforts culminating in the ongoing MillionTreesNYC tree planting campaign. The research will not only increase our general understanding of the dynamic connections among stewardship, land cover, and ecosystem services, it will directly inform the management of natural resources in New York City.

Research Team

William R. Burch Jr.
Professor Emeritus
Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

Lindsay K. Campbell
Research Social Scientist
USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station

James Connolly
Research Assistant
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Urban Planning, Columbia University

Dana R. Fisher
Associate Professor,
Department of Sociology, Columbia University

J. Morgan Grove
Research Scientist (Social Ecology)
USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station

Jacqueline W.T. Lu

Director of Research & Analysis
New York City Department of Parks & Recreation

P. Timon McPhearson
Assistant Professor of Ecology
Tishman Environment and Design, Eugene Lang College
The New School for Liberal Arts

Ellen Pehek
Senior Ecologist
New York City Department of Parks & Recreation

Gareth J. Russell
Assistant Professor
Department of Biological Sciences, New Jersey Institute of Technology

Christopher Small

Doherty Senior Research Scientist
Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University

Erika S. Svendsen
Research Social Scientist
USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station

Fiona S. Watt

Assistant Commissioner
New York City Department of Parks & Recreation

See Also