Recombinant ecology of urban areas

Characterisation, context and creativity

Authored by: Colin D. Meurk

The Routledge Handbook of Urban Ecology

Print publication date:  December  2010
Online publication date:  December  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415498135
eBook ISBN: 9780203839263
Adobe ISBN: 9781136883415


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Recombinant ecosystems comprise novel plant and animal associations that have been induced or created by people deliberately, inadvertently or indirectly. They are generally made up of various mixes of indigenous and exotic species, but they may also involve associations of indigenous species alone, never before seen in nature, for example plant signatures (Robinson 1993), native landscape garden designs and pictorial meadows (Dunnett and Hitchmough 2004), indigenous feature species introduced to areas beyond their natural range, or back-filled ‘gaps’ created by local extinctions. Hobbs et al. (2006, 2009) propose that ‘novel ecosystems’ (‘synthetic vegetation’ in Bridgewater 1990; ‘no-analog communities’ of Williams and Jackson 2007; ‘hybrid ecosystems’ in Mulcock and Trigger 2008) result from ‘human action, introduction of species, and environmental change’. Disturbance is normal in urban environments, and urban survivors (Wittig 2004; Van der Veken et al. 2004) are pre-adapted to high levels of change. As time goes on, species are added, deleted and re-sorted and vegetation converges. But active manipulation and moulding of landscapes is a major influence in the evolution of recombinant ecosystems. In the most extreme case, gardens of only alien plants or horticultural varieties (Acar et al. 2007) would qualify, although surely some indigenous microbe lurks in every urban or rural habitat.

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