October 15, 2018
The Central Arizona–Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research program, a unit of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University, was recently featured in an episode of “Catalyst” by Arizona PBS. The episode, “Desert animals in urban centers,” discussed current research about how natural environments (including plant and animal life) are affected by urban development.
Sharon Hall, a senior sustainability scientist who works with the CAP LTER, said that some plant and animal life continues to flourish within or nearby Phoenix.
"There's all these hidden spots around the city that nature is thriving,” said Hall. “If we can think about finding those areas and protecting them — or at least understanding them a bit better, maybe then we can try to make our landscape a little bit more friendly to the types of animals that . . . are living among us all the time."
The episode discussed several of the CAP LTER’s ongoing projects, including a desert fertilization experiment spanning urban and desert locations. Similar to the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy’s camera trap project discussed in the video, the CAP LTER is developing camera traps to capture photographs of urban animals. This project, led by Jesse Lewis (assistant professor at ASU’s polytechnic campus), is expected to generate photos of a variety of animals, including pumas, coyotes, jackrabbits, road runners and foxes.
School of Life Sciences graduate student Pierce Hutton was also prominently featured in the video for his work with ASU integrative behavioral ecologist Kevin McGraw. These CAP LTER scientists are studying how urban disturbances affect animals, particularly finches. So far, they have discovered that both male and female finches in the city are less colorful, which indicates poor health.
“Humans create lots of artificial noises in a city that either scare animals and lead them to move away or leave, or induce them to acclimate or adapt to those sounds,” said McGraw. He explained that these noises affect the birds’ “calling frequencies,” which they use to communicate socially or during foraging, and also affect their mating calls.
Studying how cities affect animals can lead to a better urban ecosystem for all creatures — including humans. “By understanding the processes that cause some animals to be less healthy in urban areas — or more healthy in urban areas, we can design cities better, and in turn [benefit from] a healthy environment,” Hutton said.