Civic ecology is an emerging branch of ecology that investigates the ways in which environmental stewardship activities and ecosystem services mediate the interactions of humans with other organisms and with ecosystem processes. It draws on conceptual models that emphasize interactions and feedbacks among social and ecological processes within a system. Civic ecology asks questions about how community-based environmental stewardship activities can act as drivers to enhance social and ecological structure and function in systems that have experienced gradual deterioration or sudden disturbances.
The figure below was produced by the Long-term Ecological Research Sites
(LTER 2007) to show who how long-term presses such as climate change and
short-term pulses such as fire act as destructive forces on biotic
structure and ecosystem functioning.
Source: LTER (US Long-term Ecological Research Network). (2007). The decadal plan for LTER: Integrative science for society and the environment LTER Network Office Publication Series (Vol. 24, pp. 154). Albuquerque NM, USA.
The figure below is an adaptation of the original LTER figure, and is used to show how a Civic Ecology practice, originally conceived as a short-term press but eventually becoming a larger-scale press, might act on a local urban social-ecological system.
Civic ecology recognizes the forces acting in the original LTER diagram, but begins with systems that have already been impacted by such gradual change and sudden disturbance, and emphasizes stewardship practices as another type of driver that acts to enhance aspects of social and ecological system structure and functioning. Further, through the production of ecosystem services, civic ecology practices may enhance individual and social well-being.
Thus, civic ecology focuses on the processes of reorganization and regrowth in social-ecological systems following a gradual disturbance or disaster. Civic ecology research addresses questions related to how stewardship practices become part of feedback loops that demonstrate and enhance self-organization, civic participation, social connectedness, ecosystem services, and other attributes of resilient social-ecological systems.
Civic ecology science draws heavily on social-ecological systems resilience theory outlined in such papers as:
For current references, visit the Resilience Alliance website.
As a philosophy, Civic Ecology draws from the conservation ethic of Aldo Leopold, who recognized that humans are a part of rather than separate from the ecosystem. In describing his own experience restoring a degraded farm, Leopold demonstrated how humans can become positive actors in the landscape. Our interests lie in exploring how the Leopold conservation ethic is being applied by people in cities as well as in more rural communities.
Civic ecology practices are community-based efforts to restore social and ecological processes in a neighborhood or local ecosystem. Examples of civic ecology practices include:
Civic Ecology Education refers to educational programs in which learning is situated in Civic Ecology practice, and which have individual, community, and environmental outcomes. For example, Garden Mosaics is an educational program in which youth learn through working alongside community gardeners. Outcomes for individual participants include learning about science and gardening and forming positive relationships across generations. For the community, outcomes include social learning and increased trust and social connectedness among youth and adults. For the environment, Garden Mosaics programs result in new gardens and greater biodiversity and ecosystem services in cities.