Breath of Clarity

Ecology Discussion #10: A

There are a variety of issues to consider with respect to how the housing development would impact the ecological character of the area. Specifically, measuring landscape connectivity, the extent to which a landscape facilitates the movements of organisms and their composition, would reveal whether the city’s proposed housing expansion would bring significant changes to the woodland (Rudnick 2012). For optimal protection of the area it is essential to account for the variables underlying the major ecosystem services the area delivers, and the threats upon them (Hummel et al. 2017).

Trees play a significant role in carbon sequestration, and deforestation leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions. Higher emissions exacerbates the problem of global warming. Further, climate change will intensify the earth’s water cycle in the next century, generally increasing rainfall, evaporation rates, and the occurrence of storms, and significantly altering the nutrient cycles in land-based ecosystems that influence water quality (Jackson et al. 2001). Specifically, after potential clearing of the woodland for the purpose of constructing the new housing, invasion of natural vegetation by alien trees that use more water than the indigenous vegetation that they replace, can lead to water scarcity or can turn an ecosystem that was not prone to burning into a flammable landscape (Nel et al. 2014).

Further, I would emphasize the importance of biodiversity as the basis for proposing a solution that will allow for additional housing while maintaining the natural character of the area. Research shows the public is more concerned with managing invasive species for intrinsic environmental worth than economic benefit and that preventing further environmental degradation is more motivating than promoting additional environmental gains (DeGolia et al. 2019). Effectively communicating some of the issues with respect to the ecological character of the area proposed to be developed can increase support for my alternative proposed solution (DeGolia et al. 2019). Public opinion on environmental policies is important because it can play a meaningful role in their success or failure as policymakers are typically responsive to mass public opinion (DeGolia et al. 2019).

A key challenge to incorporating my new ecosystem-based approach to the situation would be quantifying the extent to which the proposed city development’s land cover changes influence environmental degradation (Nel et al. 2014). Crucially, it is important to have sound methods in the planning process when surveying the landscape connectivity (Rudnick 2012). Before getting started, I would establish goals and objectives to drive the selection of methods used for evaluating and planning my alternative solution (Rudnick 2012). A risk-based environmental impact assessment would be useful in determining issues of cause and effect and the degree in which the space is sensitive to the proposed changes (Nichol and Chadès 2017). Specifically, I would use a Bayesian belief network (BBN) which could predict risk with 90% accuracy with a modest investment in data collection (Nichol and Chadès 2017). Also, I would consider spatial and temporal extent in the analysis, and then use caution in extrapolating results outside of observed conditions (Rudnick 2012). I would then focus on showing how my alternative solution would contribute positively to the ecosystems that will be impacted.

I would suggest adding housing to a different area. In order to have the development contribute positively to the ecosystem that will be impacted, I would advise the city to construct green buildings for its residents. For example, a Passive House is super energy and water efficient in every aspect including triple pained windows that are incredible. Even on a cold day you can stand next to a full wall of glass and not feel the cold come in. The houses can also include a rooftop solar panel system, on-demand hot water heater, and mini-split heat pump HVAC system. That way, additional greenhouse gas emissions can be removed from the atmosphere as opposed to causing more through deforestation.


DeGolia, Alexander H., Elizabeth H.T. Hiroyasu, and Sarah E. Anderson. 2019. “Economic losses or environmental gains? Framing effects on public support for environmental management.” PLOS ONE 14: e022320.

Hummel, Christiaan, Antonello Provenzale, Jaap van der Meer, Sander Winjhoven, Arno Nolte, Dimitirs Pournidis, Guyonne Janss, Matthias Jurek, Magnus Andersen, Brigitte Poulin, Johannes Kobler, Carl Belerkuhnleln, João Honrado, Arturas Razinkovas, Ana Strititih, Tessa Bargmann, Alex Ziemba, Francisco Benet-Garcia, Mihal Christian Adamescu, Gerard Jannsen, and Herman Hummel. 2017. “Ecosystem services in European protected areas: Ambiguity in the views of scientists and managers?” PLOS ONE 12:e0187143.

Jackson, Robert B., Stephen R. Carpenter, Clifford N. Dahm, Diane M. McKnight, Robert J. Naiman, Sandra L. Postel, and Steven W. Running. 2001./ “Water in a Changing World.” Issues in Ecology 9:1-16.

Nel, Jeanne L., David C. Le Maitre, Dion C. Nel, Belinda Reyers, Sally Archibald, Brian W. van Wilgren, Greg C. Forsyth, Andre K. Theron, Patrick J. O’Farrell, Jean-Marc Mwenge Kahinda, Francios A. Engelbrecht, Evison Kapangaziwiri, Lara van Niekerk, and Laurie Barwell. 2014. “Natural Hazards in a Changing World: A case for Ecosystem-Based Management.” PLOS ONE 9: e95942. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0095942.

Nichol, Sam, and Iadine Chadès. 2017. “A preliminary approach to quantifying the overall environmental risks posed by development projects during environmental impact assessment.” PLOS ONE 12: e0180982.

Rudnick, Deborah A., Sadie J. Ryan, Paul Beier, Samual A. Cushman, Fred Dieffenbach, Clinton W. Epps, Leah R. Gerber, Joel Hartter, Jeff S. Jenness, Julia Kintsch, Adina M. Merenlender, Ryan M. Perkl, Damian V. Preziosi, and Stephen C. Trombulak. 2012. “The Role of Landscape Connectivity in Planning and Implementing Conservation and Restoration Priorities.” Issues in Ecology 16: 1-20.

Response by Cassie Baeto:

Mary- Great post! Your second to last paragraph really stood out to me and I felt that it was a very realistic approach. In my opinion, there should always be an environmental impact assessment conducted before a project takes place and there should also be alternatives. This makes me think about when I took a NEPA course and I would get super frustrated because you had to offer alternatives to a project but were not required to choose a more environmentally friendly alternative. I really hope we can find a way to require or offer an incentive for choosing a better option. Additionally, I do like that you mentioned that there should be goals and objectives so even if there is not an alternative option, there are at least underlying environmental goals and objectives that will help “cushion” the impact. Green housing also sounds like a good option as well and I would like to see more communities that are more green which can come in so many different forms. I recently got into composting and there are no composting areas at all in my area and it’s so sad that there are not more “green” options. Not only would it help the environment but I don’t think that people realize that they can save money by going green. The triple pained windows that you mentioned would actually save individuals money and help the environment!

Response by Amanda Ruffini:


Great post! I also discussed the implications of connectivity in regards to the forest and the impacts fragmentation can have on biodiversity. Reducing the habitat size can impact biodiversity richness in the forest. If certain vegetation is removed, this can have cascading effects on the trophic structure. Not only this, but we learned in our Endangered species course that fragmentation can increase disease and cases of incest as it prevents the movement of species between populations and areas. At the same time, reducing habitat size creates a situation in which its carrying capacity could become exceed due to lack of resources, and species die from lack of food sources. Besides this, forest serve as carbon sinks and sequester 30% of our global carbon. Reducing the forest size only serves to disrupt the carbon cycle and reduce the amount of carbon that can be sequestered. This means that the left-over carbon ends up building up in the atmosphere.

What incentives could you provide for development to occur elsewhere? Would it economically be beneficial to the developer? I do like the idea of green buildings given that they can reduce their impacts on the environment. but what ways can we mitigate then the loss of forest?

Response by Sofia Maldonado:


I really enjoyed your post this week! I especially liked how you mentioned the water cycle increasing in intensity. Many places are going to be vulnerable to this change and urban areas are one of them. Although areas with vegetation can eventually flood, they do have a certain threshold they can reach before that happens. The soil along with their root systems are able to absorb some of the water to decrease the impact (Gloy 2019). Urban areas have less vegetation and more asphalt, which cannot absorb water. This causes them to be at high risk for flooding if rain intensity increases. A study at the Technical University of Denmark’s Department of Environmental Engineering found that green gardens and building the correct drainage systems were beneficial in mitigating these effects (Gloy 2019).


Gloy, Robert. “Extreme Rain: How Cities Are Preparing.” 2019. Accessed November 17, 2020.

Response by Professor Fenton Kay:

This is an impressive post, Mary. How would you tie your environmental analysis and your statistical treatment together to provide a convincing alternative development scenario?



My Response to Professor Fenton Kay:

Hi Fenton,

I would propose the alternative development to be on land that has been built on before. That way, the proposed housing would not be significantly altering the landscape connectivity because the original conditions were likely already altered by the first set of housing structures. Perhaps, I could select a space with structures that are unsafe or beyond repair and must be demolished, have it deconstructed carefully so that the developer can recycle, reuse, donate, or sell its salvageable materials; and then rebuild on its original foundation or footprint. I would also make sure be the site has a good source of ample, clear water, as well as adequate solar access. I will emphasize how the new housing type will help reduce greenhouse gases whereas clearing the woodlands would lead to deforestation which consequentially creates increased greenhouse gas emissions. Further, I would emphasize the importance of biodiversity as the basis for proposing a solution that will allow for additional housing at the alternative location while maintaining the natural character of the woodland area. I would communicate the research showing the public is more concerned with managing invasive species for intrinsic environmental worth than economic benefit and that preventing further environmental degradation is more motivating than promoting additional environmental gains. It would show the developer the community would rather build in the alternative location compared to the woodland. I would then juxtapose quantification of the extent to which the proposed city development’s land cover changes influence environmental degradation versus the forecasted greenhouse gas emissions reduction that happens as a result of my alternative housing project. I would then compare a risk-based environmental impact assessment of the woodland with my alternative area. It would demonstrate the degree in which each space is sensitive to the proposed changes.

Comment #2:

Original Post by Ed Piersa:

If I were the environmental manager for a mid-sized city located in an area that is on the ecotone between tallgrass prairie and deciduous woodland, I would recommend to the developer that rather than expand housing into a parcel of relatively untouched woodland, I would construct taller buildings in the already developed areas instead. Furthermore, I would also recommend the inclusion of urban agriculture for new and existing buildings to this developer. Urban agriculture could even contribute positively to the local ecosystems. Rooftop gardens would be one such example. This would also preserve the ecological character of the proposed area to be developed.

My reasoning for this recommendation would be the ever-growing consequences of deforestation. As the developer should already know, greenhouse gas emissions (particularly carbon dioxide) directly contribute to climate change. Trees are absolutely necessary in the fight against climate change. This is due to the role that trees play in carbon sequestration. Specifically, biologic carbon sequestration. This concept “refers to storage of atmospheric carbon in vegetation, soils, woody products, and aquatic environments” (United States Geological Survey, n.d.). Preserving the undeveloped area would help the air quality of the city, which would also improve the quality of life for its inhabitants.


United States Geological Survey. n.d. “What’s the Difference Between Geologic and Biologic Carbon Sequestration?” Accessed November 11, 2020.

My Comment:

Hi Ed,

Awesome idea to include urban agriculture as part of the recommendation. It takes a massive amount of land to grow food for the world’s increasing population, and implementing urban agriculture would be a way to support other untouched woodlands not being cleared for food production purposes.

The video below depicts a project of turning vacant lots in Chicago into farms:

The video highlights the opportunity to use a city’s food waste to improve the soil in these urban gardens, as better soil enhances efficiency. It also addresses a city’s climate is usually hotter than surrounding areas, due to pollution and the amount of energy being expended, which is useful for growing food.

Also, a documentary from the Discovery Channel shows how a farmer built Singapore’s first-ever rooftop garden (I am particularly impressed by his hydroponic methods):

Response by Ed Piersa:

Mary –

Thank you! I must confess that I was not even aware of the concept of urban agriculture until I started this master’s program. I wish urban agriculture was more well-known, but I do find it reassuring that it is increasing in popularity. Urban agriculture by itself is obviously not enough to stop climate change; however, every bit helps in this uphill battle.

That is an excellent video about urban farming! Have you seen the documentary film, Kiss the Ground ( I saw this documentary last week, and it is also a great one. As you can imagine based on the title, Kiss the Ground talks about the role of healthy soil and eco-friendly farming in mitigating the effects of climate change. I would recommend this film, which is narrated by Woody Harrelson and includes other celebrities, to this scenario’s developer in an effort to dissuade him from disturbing a relatively untouched ecosystem.

My Response:

Hi Ed,

True, it is awesome to see lifestyle changes that support the environment seem to be increasingly trendy nowadays. While urban agriculture is not yet quite as impactful, in terms of reducing greenhouse gases, as, perhaps, the decision for residents to install rooftop solar panel systems, the potential for urban agriculture to bring down the demand for livestock and monoculture operations is interesting to envision. As you said, even if urban gardening does not take down the environmentally unsustainable agricultural system, it chips away at the uphill battle. I found a journal article outlining the various stakeholders in the urban agriculture arena through a study in Lansing, Michigan (Piso et al. 2019). The authors classified the stakeholder classes into four groups: urban agriculture stewards, risk managers, food desert irrigators, and urban agricultural contextualists (Piso et al. 2019). The research showed these groups differ in terms of their agricultural values as well as their participation in local governance and their general understanding of the purpose of governance (Piso et al. 2019). The authors stance is that by juxtaposing agricultural values with understandings of governance, they can support effective policymaking with the process and scale at which stakeholders expect their values to inform decision making in mind (Piso et al. 2019).

The documentary does sound fascinating. I have not seen it, yet. Although, I did take soil quality seriously while filling my raised beds at home.

Great idea to recommend it to the discussion prompt scenario’s developer, too! The housing development would definitely not be nourishing the soil as well as the trees from the original woodlands would.


Piso, Zachary, Lissy Goralnik, Julie C. Libarkin and Maria Claudia Lopez. 2019. “Types of urban agricultural stakeholders and their understandings of governance”. Ecology and Society. 24 (2): 1-15.