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Cities could play a role in protecting biodiversity, Yale study finds

Red-headed_Rock_Agama lizard
Wikimedia Commons
The agama lizard, shown here, is among many species in danger of extinction as a result of human expansion.

Cities around the world are expected to grow by 2.5 billion people over the next 30 years. That growth could threaten hundreds of animal species. Or, with smart urban planning, they could be part of the solution to saving them, according to new research from Yale University.

“Depending on whether we are going to be a very connected world, or a very regionally isolated world, or a world where there’s a lot of fossil fuels still being used,” said Walter Jetz, director of the Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change. “There’s a lot of uncertainties.”

Jetz said a lot of growth will take place in tropical, developing countries.

“But it’s also in these tropical locations where expansion is butting up against biodiverse ecosystems,” he said.

They could threaten species like the agama, a brightly colored lizard in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Beautiful and unique in what it does for the ecosystem there, restricted to just a few remaining habitats that are all pretty much projected to become urban,” he said.

Jetz said there are ways to build cities that can protect the agama lizard and other species.

“Taller buildings, highrises, interspersed with parks and green areas,” he said. “That is a way to have the best of both worlds. Accommodate the growth, safeguard ecosystems and provide benefits to people.”

Cities reduce human impact in the countryside — where animals live — by concentrating people into relatively small areas. But Jetz said he’s wary about our progress so far.

“I feel we are losing critical habitats every day,” he said. “Almost all places, it’s not very well or carefully planned yet with view to biodiversity. However, I am hopeful we can rapidly do better here.”

And he hopes this study will provide a proof-of-concept for how to bring biodiversity and urban planning together — as long as urban planners and people in power are willing to get on board.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.