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Research

Global Sustainability Solutions Services

CAP LTER Research

The central research question that guides the fourth phase of our research program (CAPIV) is:

How do the services provided by dynamic urban ecosystems and their infrastructure affect human outcomes and behavior, and how do human actions affect patterns of urban ecosystem structure and function and, ultimately, urban sustainability and resilience?

The overarching goal of our research program is to foster social-ecological urban research aimed at understanding these complex systems using a holistic, ecology of cities perspective while contributing to an ecology for cities that enhances urban sustainability and resilience.

We have four, broad program objectives:

  • Use long-term observations and datasets to articulate and answer new questions requiring a long-term perspective
  • Develop and use predictive models and future-looking scenarios to help answer our research questions
  • Employ existing urban ecological theory while articulating new theory;
  • Build transdisciplinary partnerships to foster resilience and enhance sustainability in urban ecosystems while educating urban dwellers of all ages and experiences.

Conceptual Model

Our conceptual model illustrates our understanding of urban socio-ecological systems. In CAPIV we are focusing on urban infrastructure as a bridge between the biophysical and human/social components of the system. Urban infrastructure includes green, blue, turquoise, gray, and human/social infrastructures in the city.

research diagram

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Research Highlights

Major findings from several of our research initiatives are summarized under Research Highlights.


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Transformational Science

Our research has transformed the scientific understanding of urban ecosystems and approaches for conducting research on the ecology of the city.


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Long-Term Monitoring and Experiments

Long-term monitoring and experiments are at the core of CAP LTER’s research program. They enable CAP scientists to examine changes over time, particularly in ecological variables that are slow cycling.


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LTER Network

Twenty-eight research sites constitute the LTER Network at present. The geographic distribution of sites ranges from Alaska to Antarctica and from the Caribbean to French Polynesia.

Research Questions

Research under CAPIV will address the following research questions:

  • How do non-human animals “operate” in space and time to avoid disturbances or to capitalize on resources?
  • How do human provisions of food and water subsidies affect species abundances and distributions, and how does animal presence feed back to human well-being and attachment to place?
  • What are the physical dynamics of and controls on heat and climate in the urban ecosystem, including outdoor water use, at scales relevant to plants, people, and [other] animals?
  • What are the human stresses associated with climate and heat, what urban services are affected, how have these stresses and services changed over time, and what role does urban infrastructure play?
  • How do socioeconomic and institutional dynamics affect and control urban infrastructure and associated urban services, and do infrastructure failures and/or concerns for services induce societal actions regarding infrastructure and its governance?
  • What are the spatiotemporal patterns of change in residential LULCC, design, and management at multiple scales, and how do they affect tradeoffs in local-to-regional urban services?
  • How do institutions, satisfaction with the neighborhood environment, neighborhood setting, and risk perception affect household decision-making, and how does environmental change spur adaptation?
  • How does existing urban infrastructure affect urban services and human well-being and how is it changing over time? In particular, how does the distribution of infrastructure—legacies of infrastructure design—create “hotspots” for transporting, transforming, and removing materials, and how may these effects be capitalized upon, or corrected?
  • How do presses (climate change, land-use change), pulses (extreme events), and management influence water availability and water quality, organic matter accumulation, and the movement of materials in the urban ecosystem? How do these factors affect people and to what extent do these presses and pulses disrupt or enhance urban services?
  • How do land-cover mosaics (e.g., riparian areas, wetlands, lakes, and residential areas) along the Salt River vary in their provisioning of urban services, and what role do governance and infrastructure play in shaping these patterns?
  • How do ecological properties and processes (e.g., primary productivity, nutrient dynamics, ecological communities) in urban mountain parks and protected areas respond to presses, pulses, and management practices, and how do these responses alter human use, perceptions, and the urban services derived from those areas?
  • How can governance and institutions support the design of sustainable and resilient “design with nature” infrastructure?
  • What do scenarios of sustainable and resilient futures for the Phoenix urban region look like and what are the tradeoffs and uncertainties among different decisions?

Interdisciplinary Research Themes

Our work is organized across eight Interdisciplinary Research Themes (IRTs), whose membership is listed under People.

  • Water and Fluxes: Examines movements of nutrients, materials and water in the urban system as well as the effect of these on urban infrastructure and service provision.
  • Climate and Heat: Investigates local and regional climate dynamics, including impacts on people and adaptation and mitigation strategies.
  • Adapting to City Life: Examines the feedbacks between non-human biota and urbanization.
  • Governance and Institutions: Studies the relationships among institutions, socioeconomic factors, urban infrastructure, and services.
  • Urban Design: Examines how integrating ecology, design, and social science into the design process impacts biophysical and social outcomes.
  • Parks and Rivers (formerly The Salt River): Investigates biota, human use, management, and urban service provision in the area of the Salt River.
  • Residential Landscapes and Neighborhoods: Studies the management of residential landscapes, household decision-making, and urban services.
  • Scenarios and Futures: Explores scenarios of sustainable and resilient futures for the Phoenix urban region as well as tradeoffs and uncertainty in decision-making.