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Associate Professor
Home Wildlife Ecology & Conservation  |  University of Florida  |  UF/IFAS Extension

 
 

EXTENSION

RESEARCH

 

EXTENSION INTERESTS & EXPERIENCE

 

Designing and Managing Resource Efficient Urban Communities

Situation
The State of Florida expects to see its population grow from 17 million to approximately 36 million by the year 2060.  With this magnitude of growth will follow significant pressure to urbanize large amounts of rural lands to accommodate the new homes, schools, shopping and amenities. How urban communities are designed and managed affect the consumption of natural resources and impacts on the environment.  For example, the maintenance of homes and yards translates into the consumption of energy and water.  In particular, the carbon footprint of homes and yards can be reduced in a resource-efficient community.  The way urban areas are designed and managed also impact urban biodiversity.  Residential subdivisions that contain a large proportion of exotics and few natural areas offer little habitat for native wildlife species and contain few native plants.  Further, urban areas impact regional biodiversity because they are embedded in the rural/wildland areas.  Planners, developers, and citizens often make decisions that result in impacts on nearby natural habitats and wildlife populations.  Examples include polluted, stormwater runoff impacting wetlands, invasive plants migrating into terrestrial and aquatic habitats, and humans feeding wildlife or allowing pets to roam free.

With growth in Florida and even in international countries, like New Zealand, builders, developers, the general public, politicians, and municipalities are interested in building and managing “green” communities.  The goal of green communities is to achieve a balance between accommodating growth, conserving natural resources, and maintaining a quality of life and a healthy environment.  However, there is often confusion and misunderstanding as to what constitutes a green community and how one goes about designing and managing a green community.  Decisions made by a variety of people, from politicians to homeowners, ultimately determine whether a community functions as a green community.  Land use planning, where roads are placed, how subdivisions and commercial areas are built, and how people manage their workplaces and homes all interact in unique ways to produce a green community.  Often, economic and environmental interests seem to run counter to each other when in fact, “win-win” solutions are available. My program targets the three major decision hierarchies within urban communities: 1) homeowners and the general public, 2) developers and built environment professionals, and 3) planners and policymakers.  The focus of my Extension program is not only on promoting green design, but also on developing and implementing long-term management programs that create functioning, resource-efficient communities.

Program Objectives
1)         to increase the number of “green” developments that incorporate design and management strategies that help counties and cities conserve natural resources.
2)         to increase exposure of homeowners to natural resource conservation issues and best management practices in green communities.

Projects

1) Program for Resource Efficient Communities (workshops and continuing education courses)

2) Green Developments

Educating and Engaging the Public in Natural Resource Conservation

Situation
Natural resources, especially wildlife, contribute significantly to the Florida economy and are important components of the quality of life for many residents and tourists. In Florida, where population growth, urbanization, and agriculture development impact the distributions of Florida’s wildlife, relevant information and educational programs are needed by the public to address management of wildlife.  Florida’s ecotourism activities concern wildlife (both consumptive and non-consumptive activities).  These activities are a multi-billion dollar industry for Florida, and yet many human activities, such as urban development, threaten wildlife populations. Florida is third in the contiguous 48 states in the number of plants and animals federally listed as being in danger of becoming extinct.
Further, because of human growth and urban development, people are increasingly coming into contact with wildlife.  Along the urban-wildland interface, opportunities exist to view wildlife, but in many cases, problems arise when people come into contact with wildlife populations. Tourists and residents alike need basic information about wildlife in order to promote healthy interactions between humans and wildlife.  Given the number of people that live in or visit the state, it is a major challenge to reach all of these people.  Because over 80% of Floridians live in urban areas, information on how to provide wildlife habitat, reduce wildlife/human conflicts, conserve natural resources in urban backyards, and minimize impacts on surrounding habitats will help to conserve biodiversity and retain Florida’s natural heritage . 

Program Objective:

1) to increase the number of people exposed to information about appropriate wildlife and natural resource conservation strategies

Projects:

1) Living Green (online web site and TV show)

2) Study Abroad Course in New Zealand

3) Implementing local environmental education programs in neighborhoods

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RESEARCH INTERESTS & EXPERIENCE

 

Urban Ecology and Wildlife Conservation

How urban landscapes are designed and managed greatly affect the diversity of flora and fauna.  Two particular questions of importance in ecology and conservation are: 1) What habitat features, at what scale, are of primary importance to animals as landscapes change, and 2) What are the primary scales at which these animals respond to habitat features.  I have investigated these questions through a series of empirical studies on birds and other organisms in urban environments. 

Key Findings

  • It is critical to measure habitat variables at different scales in order to design urban areas for wildlife.
  • The size of the animal is somewhat correlated to its habitat patch size and scale at which it responds to objects in the landscape, but there are notable exceptions.
  • It has helped clarify how the hierarchical decisions of people (e.g., homeowners, developers, and planners) influence the distribution and persistence of urban wildlife. 
  • Land cover is more important than land use category as an influence on the distribution and persistence of species.

 
Impacts

  • I conducted one of the few empirical, habitat-selection studies that investigated the multiple-scales at which birds select urban habitat.  This has led to a number of studies investigating urban landscape geometry at different scales and the impacts on the distributions of various wildlife species.
  • It has helped planners, developers, and policymakers to create planning documents and policies that address urban biodiversity conservation.

    Design and Management of Green Developments

    Green developments are a popular concept used by environmentalists, developers, and municipalities to address natural resource conservation and biodiversity.  Functional green developments are determined successful implementation during the design, construction, and post-construction phases - but typically built environment professionals (landscape architects, planners, developers, and policymakers) focus only on design.

    Key Findings

    • Construction and post-construction phases are critical for urban biodiversity conservation.
    • Many conservation policies and conservation subdivisions in urban areas do not address long-term, environmental management of built and conserved areas.
    • Homeowners, even in green developments, have low scores in environmental levels of knowledge, attitude, and behaviors.
    • Both homeowners in conventional and green developments want green features.

     

    Impacts

    • Findings have been used in the creation of new city policies and strategies for conserving urban biodiversity.
    • Increased understanding by social scientists, environmentalists, and public policymakers that engagement of homeowners may be critical in order to have successful conservation subdivisions.
    • Cities and developers in Florida and New Zealand have created new policies and procedures to conserve biodiversity in residential developments.
    • The findings have been published in a number of scientific journals and extension publications.

    Overall, my research program has significant impact on our understanding on how to design and manage for biodiversity and natural resource conservation in urban environments.  In particular, most of the results have been incorporated into my Extension program, which involves workshops and consultations with developers, environmental consulting firms, and municipalities.  The results are helping municipalities to write policies, developers to implement appropriate design and management practices, and homeowners to manage their homes, yards, and neighborhoods in an environmentally sensitive manner. 

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