Discovering and Applying the Urban Rules of Life to Design Sustainable and Healthy Cities

Tom A. Langen, Charles H. Cannon, David C. Blackburn, Eric L. Morgan, Paola E. Mera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The city and its urban biome provides an extreme laboratory for studying fundamental biological questions and developing best practices for sustaining biodiverse and well-functioning ecological communities within anthropogenic built environments. We propose by studying urban organisms, urban biotic communities, the urban biome, and the interactions between the urban biome and peri-urban built and natural environments, we can (1) discover new "rules of life" for the structure, function, interaction, and evolution of organisms; (2) use these discoveries to understand how novel emerging biotic communities affect and are affected by anthropogenic environmental changes in climate and other environmental factors; and (3) apply what we have learned to engage residents of the urban biome, and design cities that are more biologically diverse, are provided with more and better ecosystem services, and are more equitable and healthier places to live. The built environment of the urban biome is a place that reflects history, economics, technology, governance, culture, and values of the human residents; research on and applications of the rules of life in the urban biome can be used by all residents in making choices about the design of the cities where they live. Because inhabitants are directly invested in the environmental quality of their neighborhoods, research conducted in and about the urban environment provides a great opportunity to engage wide and diverse communities of people. Given the opportunity to engage a broad constituency-from basic researchers to teachers, civil engineers, landscape planners, and concerned citizens-studying the translation of the rules of life onto the urban environment will result in an integrative and crosscutting set of questions and hypotheses, and will foster a dialog among citizens about the focus of urban biome research and its application toward making more equitable, healthy, livable, sustainable, and biodiverse cities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1237-1252
Number of pages16
JournalIntegrative and comparative biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Plant Science


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