28.10.2011 - Natural Sciences Sector

Urban connections of biosphere reserves

It was the Man and Biosphere programme (MAB) which promoted the first worldwide international research initiative on ecological approaches to urban systems and other human settlements. This approach has used ideas both from autoecology (the study of the relationship of an individual organism to its environment) and synecology (the study of groups of organisms), as well as from systems ecology with its emphasis on energy budgets, nutrient cycles and, above all, the concept of the ecosystem.

The starting point was a pioneering study in the mid-1970s on the ecology and metabolism of the city of Hong Kong, combined with a survey of the quality of life of individuals and human adaptation. More than 20 field projects followed, on such themes as energy flows and recycling in Lae (Papua New Guinea), urban flora and fauna in Berlin (Germany) and in Xalapa (Mexico), children in the city of Toronto (Canada), urban green spaces in Dayton (USA), Seoul (Rep. Korea) and Valencia (Spain) and linkages between the urban and rural environments in Bangkok (Thailand) and Rome (Italy).

More recent work has focused on applying the biosphere reserve concept to urban areas. Examples of urban biosphere reserves in the vicinity of large urban areas are Cuenca Alta del Rio Manzanares (Madrid, Spain), Arganeraie (Agadir, Morocco), Cibodas (Bogor–Jakarta, Indonesia), Can Grove Mangrove (Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam), Cape West Coast and Kogelberg (Cape Town, South Africa), Cerrado (Brasilia, Brazil), Golden Gate (San Francisco, USA), Laplandskiy (Moncgegorsk, Russian Federation), Mata Atlantica (Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil), Montseny (Barcelona, Spain), Mont Saint-Hilaire (Montreal, Canada), Mornington Peninsula (Melbourne, Australia), North Bull Island (Dublin, Ireland), Pays de Fontainebleau (Paris, France), Pereyra Iraola (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Puszcza Kapinoska (Warsaw, Poland) and Wienerwald (Vienna, Austria).

In October 2010, an international symposium on urban futures and human and urban well-being elaborated plans for a new three-year initiative to promote sustainable urban development and improve the relationship between cities and the ecosystems of which they are a part. The symposium was organized in Shanghai (China) by MAB, in co-operation with the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment. An international expert group has since been set up to assist in the design and implementation of this Urban Futures Programme.

Taken from A World of Science, Vol.9 N°4, an issue celebrating MAB’s 40th anniversary

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