Ecological studies of terrestrial urban systems have been approached along several kinds of contrasts: ecology in as opposed to ecology of cities; biogeochemical compared to organismal perspectives, land use planning versus biological, and disciplinary versus interdisciplinary. In order to point out how urban ecological studies are poised for significant integration, we review key aspects of these disparate literatures. We emphasize an open definition of urban systems that accounts for the exchanges of material and influence between cities and surrounding landscapes. Research on ecology in urban systems highlights the nature of the physical environment, including urban climate, hydrology, and soils. Biotic research has studied flora, fauna, and vegetation, including trophic effects of wildlife and pets. Unexpected interactions among soil chemistry, leaf litter quality, and exotic invertebrates exemplify the novel kinds of interactions that can occur in urban systems. Vegetation and faunal responses suggest that the configuration of spatial heterogeneity is especially important in urban systems. This insight parallels the concern in the literature on the ecological dimensions of land use planning. The contrasting approach of ecology of cities has used a strategy of biogeochemical budgets, ecological footprints, and summaries of citywide species richness. Contemporary ecosystem approaches have begun to integrate organismal, nutrient, and energetic approaches, and to show the need for understanding the social dimensions of urban ecology. Social structure and the social allocation of natural and institutional resources are subjects that are well understood within social sciences, and that can be readily accommodated in ecosystem models of metropolitan areas. Likewise, the sophisticated understanding of spatial dimensions of social differentiation has parallels with concepts and data on patch dynamics in ecology and sets the stage for comprehensive understanding of urban ecosystems. The linkages are captured in the human ecosystem framework.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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