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Social inequality hinders the conservation of biodiversity in urban areas

Geese swim in an urban canal
doug turetsky
Many species inhabit urban bodies of water

Humans are part of nature, but the changes we make to the landscape can have significant impacts on the species around us. Max Lambert, a research biologist in the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, studies primarily amphibians and reptiles and their ability to survive in urban areas. Lambert’s research also examines how social inequality impacts urban biodiversity.

“I interpret urban very broadly to mean any kind of urban development, so that can be big cities, that could be low-density neighborhoods that are removed from big-city areas,” Lambert said.

Urbanization is not one thing but rather a variable mix of industrial, commercial, residential, and park spaces. Some animals can navigate these areas, while other species disappear when human development encroaches upon their habitat. While “green spaces” have been shown to benefit human mental health, Lambert argued that not all green spaces are created equal.

“What is green space? That could be just a pile of like soccer fields, or it could be restoring an urban forest. You know, both of them are good, they give you chances for recreation and seeing green things, but it's the number of species that are in that green space that add a huge layer to improving human wellbeing,” Lambert said.

A lack of suitable habitat for animals can reflect injustice in the management of human urban populations as well.

“I think we've, we've realized that a lot of the places we think are not great for nature are also places where you have minoritized communities that are being heavily impacted by air pollution, water pollution, a lack of green space, a lack of access to their own food, they’re what we call food deserts, where you have very few grocery stores, and they're heavily over policed areas. So, until you take care of that the equity and justice in a city, you'll never be able to actually have conservation reach its full potential in a city, because those landscapes will always be places that are detrimental to the community of people that live there and need to thrive there as well,” Lambert said.

Caroline Long is a science reporter at UPR. She is curious about the natural world and passionate about communicating her findings with others. As a PhD student in Biology at Utah State University, she spends most of her time in the lab or at the coyote facility, studying social behavior. In her free time, she enjoys making art, listening to music, and hiking.