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The biological deserts fallacy: Cities in their landscapes contribute more than we think to regional biodiversity. BioScience 71 (2) . SFEI Contribution No. 1031.2021.
Cities are both embedded within and ecologically linked to their surrounding landscapes. Although urbanization poses a substantial threat to biodiversity, cities also support many species, some of which have larger populations, faster growth rates, and higher productivity in cities than outside of them. Despite this fact, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the potentially beneficial links between cities and their surroundings.
We identify five pathways by which cities can benefit regional ecosystems by releasing species from threats in the larger landscape, increasing regional habitat heterogeneity and genetic diversity, acting as migratory stopovers, preadapting species to climate change, and enhancing public engagement and environmental stewardship. Increasing recognition of these pathways could help cities identify effective strategies for supporting regional biodiversity conservation and could provide a science-based platform for incorporating biodiversity alongside other urban greening goals.
Sediment for Survival: A Strategy for the Resilience of Bay Wetlands in the Lower San Francisco Estuary. SFEI Contribution No. 1015. San Francisco Estuary Institute: Richmond, CA.2021.
The resilience of San Francisco Bay shore habitats, such as tidal marshes and mudflats, is essential to all who live in the Bay Area. Tidal marshes and tidal flats (also known as mudflats) are key components of the shore habitats, collectively called baylands, which protect billions of dollars of bay-front housing and infrastructure (including neighborhoods, business parks, highways, sewage treatment plants, and landfills). They purify the Bay’s water, support endangered wildlife, nurture fisheries, and provide people access to nature within the urban environment. Bay Area residents showed their commitment to restoring these critical habitats when they voted for a property tax to pay for large-scale tidal marsh restoration. However, climate change poses a great threat, because there may not be enough natural sediment supply for tidal marshes and mudflats to gain elevation fast enough to keep pace with sea-level rise.
This report analyses current data and climate projections to determine how much natural sediment may be available for tidal marshes and mudflats and how much supplemental sediment may be needed under different future scenarios. These sediment supply and demand estimates are combined with scientific knowledge of natural physical and biological processes to offer a strategy for sediment delivery that will allow these wetlands to survive a changing climate and provide benefits to people and nature for many decades to come. The approach developed in this report may also be useful beyond San Francisco Bay because shoreline protection, flood risk-management, and looming sediment deficits are common issues facing coastal communities around the world.
Trees and Hydrology in Urban Landscapes. SFEI Contribution No. 1034. San Francisco Estuary Institute: Richmond, CA.2021.
Effective implementation of urban greening strategies is needed to address legacies of landscape change and environmental degradation, ongoing development pressures, and the urgency of the climate crisis. With limited space and resources, these challenges will not be met through single-issue or individual-sector management and planning. Increasingly, local governments, regulatory agencies, and other urban planning organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area are expanding upon the holistic, portfolio-based, and multi-benefit approaches.
This effort, presented in the Trees and Hydrology in Urban Landscapes report, seeks to build links between stormwater management and urban ecological improvements by evaluating how complementary urban greening activities, including green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) and urban tree canopy, can be integrated and improved to reduce runoff and contaminant loads in stormwater systems. This work expands the capacity for evaluating engineered GSI and non-engineered urban greening within a modeling and analysis framework, with a primary focus on evaluating the hydrologic benefit of urban trees. Insights can inform stormwater management policy and planning.
Delta Landscapes Primary Production: Past, Present, Future. SFEI Contribution No. 988.2020.
This report describes the Delta Landscapes Primary Production project, which quantifies how landscape change in the Delta has altered the quantity and character of primary production. Combining historical and modern maps with simple models of production for five dominant plant and algae groups, we estimate primary production across the hydrologically connected Delta. We evaluate changes in primary production over time (between the early 1800s and early 2000s), between wet and dry years, and with future targets for landscape-scale restoration. For managers in the Delta, restoring historical patterns of primary productivity is a means to better support native fish and other wildlife. To better equip decision makers in managing for improved primary production, this study offers historical context and the best available science on the relative production value of habitat types and their configurations.
Integrating Planning with Nature: Building climate resilience across the urban-to-rural gradient. SFEI Contribution No. 1013.2020.
Making Nature's City. SFEI Contribution No. 947. San Francisco Estuary Institute: Richmond, CA.2019.
Cities will face many challenges over the coming decades, from adapting to a changing climate to accommodating rapid population growth. A related suite of challenges threatens global biodiversity, resulting in many species facing extinction. While urban planners and conservationists have long treated these issues as distinct, there is growing evidence that cities not only harbor a significant fraction of the world’s biodiversity, but also that they can also be made more livable and resilient for people, plants, and animals through nature-friendly urban design.
Urban ecological science can provide a powerful tool to guide cities towards more biodiversity-friendly design. However, current research remains scattered across thousands of journal articles and is largely inaccessible to practitioners. Our report Making Nature’s City addresses these issues, synthesizing global research to develop a science-based approach for supporting nature in cities.
Using the framework outlined in the report, urban designers and local residents can work together to connect, improve, and expand upon city greenspaces to better support biodiversity while making cities better places to live. As we envision healthier and more resilient cities, Making Nature’s City provides practical guidance for the many actors who together will shape the nature of cities.
Building Ecological Resilience in Highly Modified Landscapes.2018.
Ecological resilience is a powerful heuristic for ecosystem management in the context of rapid environmental change. Significant efforts are underway to improve the resilience of biodiversity and ecological function to extreme events and directional change across all types of landscapes, from intact natural systems to highly modified landscapes such as cities and agricultural regions. However, identifying management strategies likely to promote ecological resilience remains a challenge. In this article, we present seven core dimensions to guide long-term and large-scale resilience planning in highly modified landscapes, with the objective of providing a structure and shared vocabulary for recognizing opportunities and actions likely to increase resilience across the whole landscape. We illustrate application of our approach to landscape-scale ecosystem management through case studies from two highly modified California landscapes, Silicon Valley and the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta. We propose that resilience-based management is best implemented at large spatial scales and through collaborative, cross-sector partnerships.
Sediment Supply to San Francisco Bay. SFEI Contribution No. 842. San Francisco Estuary Institute : Richmond, CA.2018.
Translating Science-Based Restoration Strategies into Spatially-Explicit Restoration Opportunities in the Delta (2018 Bay-Delta Science Conference Presentation).2018.
In a previous report titled “A Delta Renewed” we offered a collection of guidelines for science-based ecological restoration in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that emphasized restoring or emulating natural processes, anticipating future changes associated with climate change, establishing appropriate configurations of habitat types at the landscape scale, and utilizing a variety multi-benefit management strategies. In this talk, we present on our recent work to support regional restoration planning efforts by developing a repeatable process for using these guidelines to identify spatially-explicit restoration opportunities. The process is largely GIS-based and utilizes spatial data on existing land cover and conservation status, habitat configuration (including patch sizes and distances), surface elevations (including depth of subsidence), and future changes in tidal elevations associated with sea-level rise. By distilling generalized guidelines into spatially-explicit opportunities, we hope to provide a practical tool for incorporating science into planning. To that end, these new methods are currently being piloted through planning efforts focused on the Central Delta Corridor and the McCormack Williamson Tract, and are also being used to assist with the quantification of ecological restoration potential in the Delta Plan Ecosystem Amendment.
Presentation recording: available here.