In recent decades, unprecedented changes have impacted ecosystems all over the world causing habitat degradation and loss. The increasing occurrence of extreme climatic events (hurricanes, storms, floods) or the arrival of new insects and diseases (emerald ash borer, Dutch elm disease) are just a few examples of those changes.
The negative impacts of those changes are exacerbated in more populated environments such as urban and peri-urban areas. The consequences are manifold. First, human well-being (physical and mental) is greatly improved by the presence of natural areas or simply trees in the environment. Loss of tree cover following the arrival of the emerald ash borer for example has been linked to an increasing number of deaths due to cardiovascular and respiratory problems (Donovan et al. 2013, The relationship between trees and human health). From an economic point of view, the loss of tree cover can drastically affect the budget of a household, city or country. With fewer trees, more energy is needed to cool buildings (in summer) or heat them (in winter) and more run-off has to be managed. In the city of Toronto for example trees are estimated to reduce annual water management costs by over $ 50 million by absorbing and intercepting preciptation (TD Economics 2014, The value of urban forests in cities across Canada).
However, some ecosystems are more resilient than others. In other words, some ecosystems can tolerate and absorb perturbations while maintaining most of the functions and services they provide while others lose a lot of their functions or collapse facing the same perturbations. What ecological characteristics of the ecosystem can account for theses differences in resilience? Or what ecological characteristics do we need to foster or increase the resilience of our ecosystems to ensure that they continue to provide the functions and services that are so essential to our well-being?
Although our understanding of future changes in climate, disease and land cover are accompanied by a fair amount of uncertainty, some ecosystem characteristics have been positively linked to resilience in a variety of managed and unmanaged ecosystems, such as increased biodiversity and ecological connectivity (Naeem et al. 2009, Biodiversity, Ecosystem Functioning and Human Well-Being: An Ecological and Economic Perspective).
The three founding professors of Eco2Urb bring together their varied and complementary expertise to improve ecosystem resilience by applying the most recent knowledge and technology.