Connectivity of green and blue infrastructures: living veins for biodiverse and healthy cities

Living with wildlife in cities

Coexisting with wildlife in cities can lead to what is known as “human-wildlife conflict,” or attacks, nuisances, disease transmission, loss of aesthetic value, and economic costs.

For example, foxes, feral dogs, bears and raccoons may tip over and empty out garbage cans onto sidewalks and streets in order to find food. Wild canids and felids may kill people’s pets. It is also common for people with gardens to be upset by moles, woodchucks, deer, or other animals that mess up their lawns and eat their flowers. People may be frightened by the incursion into their gardens and houses of snakes, wasps, spiders, mice, and other species.

Wild animals in cities can also help control other pest animals. Leopards in Mumbai hunt feral dogs that may transmit rabies: news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/03/mumbai-leopards-sanjay-gandhi-national-park-stray-dogs-rabies-spd Hedgehogs in gardens eat snails and slugs that chew on leaves. Raptors that nest on skyscraper cornices control rat and pigeon populations.

Human-wildlife conflict is largely a matter of attitude, as well as the political costs and benefits of tolerating, complaining about, or actively resisting cohabitation with other species. This is particularly the case for human-wildlife conflicts with species that are protected by NGOs, governments, or other actors. In these cases, the human- wildlife conflict is frequently a “proxy conflict” with the actors seen to be protecting the wildlife, and the root of the conflict is often completely unrelated to the species itself. In urban environments, human-wildlife conflict is less common with protected species, since urban habitats attract generalist species that are good at living in human-modified habitats, and thus are not threatened. Negative attitudes towards urban animals thus have to do with fear or bother. Animals tend not to understand our demarcation of territory into inside and outside, private and public, forest and garden, tidy area and garbage area, and many people find their crossing of these boundaries to be upsetting.

At the same time, contact with nature, including wildlife, seems to have positive mental health benefits for city dwellers. For example, my former colleague Kristine Engemann from Aarhus University has found that childhood exposure to green areas reduces the risk of mental health problems in adulthood: eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-02/au-bsb022019.php?fbclid=IwAR2OW1TEnlVPi1rIZKh2tGudoyvHehDoDM-LxX3JPpMT6DxoYewQcD7e0x0. Many people very much enjoy having a close encounter with a deer—if it is not eating their flowers or crashing through their sliding-glass doors—or with birds—if they are not defecating all over the balcony—or with a fox—if it is not trying to bite them or their baby—or with butterflies—almost always. I think that some of our frustration with wildlife comes from our inability to control it, our sometimes poor interspecies communication and our fear of a social relation that can go wrong. Because wildlife indeed is not just something we observe as a spectacle through the window or from within a rowboat or on a path—animals may want to interact with us, or the physical infrastructures we create. Animals do not grasp the division between humans and wilderness, artificial and natural, that present themselves as primal and obvious to most city dwellers. If they stay out of cities, it is because they can’t make a living in urban habitats, not because of some profound difference in our natures that means that they don’t belong there.

Nevertheless, with some creativity many such boundary-crossing problems can be addressed, mitigated and perhaps solved. Architecture and industrial design could be employed to create spaces, infrastructures, objects and information sources to make interactions with wildlife more predictable, mutually desirable and safe, and to make spaces more permeable or less permeable, as the case may be. This is an area that has interested me a lot, and I once published a paper with a design student in which we proposed a set of designs to reduce conflict with sealions at the port of Valdivia, in Chile. We included designs that supported different conceptions of human-animal relations (spatial separation vs. interaction) as well designs that intervened at different scales and by different means—an architectural installation, a temporary mobile fence, an anti-sealion defensive startler, and a flyer explaining how to read sealion body language. These were unfortunately never tested or applied. Yet there seems to be an increasing need for such collaborations between designers, ecologists and animal behaviour researchers in urban contexts.

Another approach to improving cohabitation with wildlife in cities may be to reconceptualise how we use space, in recognition of the fact that cities are places where animals live, and that welcoming them can help secure their benefits to urban ecologies and human well-being. For example, the crows at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris are considered a pest because they dig in and overturn the turf on the lawns (which you cannot walk on), especially in spring when the soil is full of little larvae to eat. The gardeners sometimes put up signs apologizing for the effect, which certainly contrasts with the highly ordered and ornate garden style. My thought was that the gardeners should accept the crows’ intervention as a form of contemporary nonhuman art collaboration, and plant flowers every spring in the random patches of overturned turf. I am still looking for an opportunity to suggest this to someone. What does seem to have happened, though I am not sure if it is on purpose, is that a small section of the lawn has not been turfed this year, and the crows seem to be very attracted to this area. If it keeps them away from the lawns, this might be a good (if slightly unexciting, I must say) solution.

Bibliography:

Lowry, H., Lill, A., & Wong, B. B. (2013). Behavioural responses of wildlife to urban environments. Biological reviews, 88(3), 537-549.
Magle, S. B., Hunt, V. M., Vernon, M., & Crooks, K. R. (2012). Urban wildlife research: past, present, and future. Biological conservation, 155, 23-32.
Root-Bernstein, M., Arévalo Rosas, N., Osman, L.P., & Ladle, R.J. 2012. Design solutions to coastal human-wildlife conflicts. Journal of Coastal Conservation 16(4), 585-596.
Soulsbury, C. D., & White, P. C. (2016). Human–wildlife interactions in urban areas: a review of conflicts, benefits and opportunities. Wildlife research, 42(7), 541-553.
Teixeira, C. P., Passos, L., Goulart, V. D., Hirsch, A., Rodrigues, M., & Young, R. J. (2016). Evaluating patterns of human–reptile conflicts in an urban environment. Wildlife research, 42(7), 570-578.

Meredith Root-Bernstein, 4 March 2019

Thumbnail for Animals live in cities too…

Animals live in cities too…

Are cities a human phenomenon?

Thumbnail for A bit on art, meaning and gardens

A bit on art, meaning and gardens

Contemporary art has a lot to say about…

Thumbnail for What is biodiversity?

What is biodiversity?

BIOVEINS looks at where biodiversity is…

Thumbnail for What is green and blue infrastructure?

What is green and blue infrastructure?

BIOVEINS focuses on the role of green…

Thumbnail for Cities: what are they?

Cities: what are they?

We take cities for granted. But where…

Thumbnail for BIOVEINS Blog!

BIOVEINS Blog!

Welcome to the BIOVEINS blog!

Thumbnail for A morning with the Agence de Biodiversité of Ile-de-France

A morning with the Agence de Biodiversité of Ile-de-France

On a beautiful May morning, I meet…

Thumbnail for Biodiversity in European cities: a historical perspective

Biodiversity in European cities: a historical perspective

Is biodiversity in cities a futuristic…

Thumbnail for Bioveins Syposium: Greening Cities

Bioveins Syposium: Greening Cities

Biodiversity, Data, and Knowledge. 13…

Thumbnail for Call for papers

Call for papers

"Governing Urban Natures:…

Thumbnail for Cities, restoration & art

Cities, restoration & art

I met the artist Carmen Bouyer over the…

Thumbnail for Conferences and workshops of interest

Conferences and workshops of interest

Where to learn about urban nature!

Thumbnail for Data collection for BIOVEINS: Bacteria and birds!

Data collection for BIOVEINS: Bacteria and birds!

Collecting data on leaf bacteria and…

Thumbnail for Data collection for BIOVEINS: Bees, bats, flowers and insects

Data collection for BIOVEINS: Bees, bats, flowers and insects

Recently I caught up with the BIOVEINS…

Thumbnail for Dispatch from Lesotho

Dispatch from Lesotho

I write to you from Lesotho, where I am…

Thumbnail for Diversity of our roots

Diversity of our roots

The new Exorigins project brings a…

Thumbnail for Field notes from Chile

Field notes from Chile

I am doing fieldwork in a village in…

Thumbnail for Flies are cool

Flies are cool

Flies are diverse, amazing, urbane, and…

Thumbnail for Flora of Urban Wastelands: An interdisciplinary project

Flora of Urban Wastelands: An interdisciplinary project

Interview with Audrey Muratet, one of…

Thumbnail for Fragmentation

Fragmentation

One of the ecological concepts that…

Thumbnail for Urban amphibians

Urban amphibians

Are there frogs in cities? Where are…

Thumbnail for Experimenting with cities: news

Experimenting with cities: news

Matera, European City of Culture 2019;…

Thumbnail for Heat islands

Heat islands

Its hot and I’m in a heat island.

Thumbnail for Identifying urban plants

Identifying urban plants

Recently I found a guidebook to the…

Thumbnail for Imagination and Creativity for Cities and Nature I

Imagination and Creativity for Cities and Nature I

The Paris Forum on NBS [Nature-Based…

Thumbnail for Imagination and Creativity for Cities and Nature II

Imagination and Creativity for Cities and Nature II

Philosophies of action for resilient…

Thumbnail for Imagining the future of nature

Imagining the future of nature

On a recent visit to Milan I got to see…

Thumbnail for Integrating ecology in landscape design

Integrating ecology in landscape design

I recently went to meet Yves…

Thumbnail for IPBES Global Assessment Summary

IPBES Global Assessment Summary

The IPBES has today released a summary…

Thumbnail for Living with wildlife in cities

Living with wildlife in cities

Coexisting with wildlife in cities can…

Thumbnail for Living with wildlife in cities II

Living with wildlife in cities II

Reflections on mice and work.

Thumbnail for Making Urban Nature: Book Review

Making Urban Nature: Book Review

Stadsnatuurmaken/ Making Urban Nature…

Thumbnail for May Day- nature does no work

May Day- nature does no work

May Day is both a celebration of spring…

Thumbnail for Milton St., Northampton, MA, USA

Milton St., Northampton, MA, USA

I was taking a walk in Northampton,…

Thumbnail for Nonhuman gardens?

Nonhuman gardens?

If nonhuman animals made gardens, or if…

Thumbnail for Participate in green area mapping!

Participate in green area mapping!

Help us get to know better the urban…

Thumbnail for Participate in our public participatory park mapping survey!

Participate in our public participatory park mapping survey!

Bioveins is starting a new survey to…

Thumbnail for Art posters for you

Art posters for you

We made posters to give away.

Thumbnail for Remarkable Trees

Remarkable Trees

Are there remarkable trees in cities?

Thumbnail for Ruins!

Ruins!

Ruins are poignant because they point…

Thumbnail for Methods in ecology: counting things and sampling

Methods in ecology: counting things and sampling

You do ecology by counting things. But…

Thumbnail for Some facts about the urban habitat

Some facts about the urban habitat

What kind human habitat is a city?

Thumbnail for strawbAIRies!

strawbAIRies!

Strawberries and bacon-and-eggs:…

Thumbnail for Structural heterogeneity

Structural heterogeneity

What makes me enjoy certain gardens…

Thumbnail for Succession vs. land-use change

Succession vs. land-use change

In past posts we have talked about how…

Thumbnail for Surveillance and urban nature

Surveillance and urban nature

What does surveillance, data, and…

Thumbnail for Think like a large disturbance-making omnivore

Think like a large disturbance-making omnivore

A recent paper in Science summarizes…

Thumbnail for Urban pastoralism

Urban pastoralism

Recently I saw some eco-sheep in Paris.

Thumbnail for Urban transformative capacity

Urban transformative capacity

How to create an ideal city (?)

Thumbnail for Urban transformative capacity 2

Urban transformative capacity 2

Biopolis Summer School in Biology and…

Thumbnail for We love trees

We love trees

A real and an imaginary art exhibition…

Thumbnail for What are gardens?

What are gardens?

I consulted a couple of books about…

Thumbnail for What does it feel like to be an urban animal?

What does it feel like to be an urban animal?

Analogies from a city in chaos

Thumbnail for What is ecology?

What is ecology?

Ecology is the study of living things…

Thumbnail for Its World Bee Day!

Its World Bee Day!

Every day that the world keeps on…

Thumbnail for World Cities Day

World Cities Day

Today is World Cities Day, promoted by…