Urban Restoration Ecology

We will explore principles of modern ecology that relate to restoring ecological structure and function to previously degraded lands. These are often in cities and suburbs where past land-use has removed the historic natural communities.  Ecological restoration is also done in less populated areas such as landfill zones, brownfields, abandoned mines and farmlands, and in areas of natural devastation.  We will address a series of related questions: What are the processes of functioning plant and animal communities that can be reinstated on damaged lands? What are the constraints to restoring past natural communities (soil, species availability, interactions among species, changed physical environments)? How can restored habitats be incorporated in a modern landscape design?  What social and political hurdles must be overcome to advance an ecological agenda? These topics will be discussed using relevant ecological literature and examples of landscape architecture site plans and competition proposals where ecology is one of the main thrusts of the design.

We have invited students to this course from both the landscape architecture and organismic biology programs to mesh the academic skills of these two groups.  Landscape architecture projects, at all scales, can involve elements that add to our natural habitats.  These restored areas are increasingly shown to give “ecological services,” natural functions that enhance our communities in many ways.  This brings added value to landscape design both to the site itself and to the region to which any project is ecologically connected.  This can be a major application of ecological principles to environmental improvement.Class format will be lectures, class discussions, and occasional field trips to local sites where ecological restoration has been attempted, sometimes successfully!  Student teams will do a model ecological restoration design, based on an actual landscape, to practice the types of analyses and interventions needed to incorporate natural structures and functions into a landscape design. Teams will include both biology and Landscape Architecture students to advance interdisciplinary skills.

Prerequisites should include some course background (at Harvard or elsewhere) in modern ecology and habitat structure.  Readings will be from the ecological and landscape architecture literature. Assignments will include short essays on ecological concepts as well as the term landscape project.

This class will include a trip to Manhattan, NY on February 25-26. Cost of the trip will be transportation and lodging for 1-2 nights (estimated cost approximately $150), plus meals and incidentals. (If funding is obtained, each student will receive a travel stipend to subsidize travel costs.)