Conceptual model

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LTER Conceptual Model

Illustration credit: Sean Quinn

We conceive of the MSP Urban Ecosystem as a coupled ecological and social system operating within the milieu of diverse influential and interacting biophysical, social, and technical contextual factors. These contextual factors are dynamic – some have changed recently (springs have become wetter, specific acts of racism have led to social uprising) and others changed hundreds (major biomes intersecting) to thousands (glaciers retreating) of years ago. Within this context (top), the MSP Urban LTER aims to determine the long-term coupled dynamics of the urban social system (middle) and urban nature (bottom) in the face of rapid environmental and social change.

We examine this coupling across organizational scales of urban nature that range from diverse organisms in habitat patches to stream and stormwater drainage networks to landscapes with abundant surface water. Within the urban social system, we consider organizational scales ranging from diverse individuals acting in groups to numerous municipalities to complex governance systems and institutions within the metropolitan region. These include seven counties and 33 watershed management entities, and a metro-wide governing body, the Metropolitan Council.

Our research addresses how biodiversity at the organism to habitat patch scales, and habitat fragmentation and connectivity mediate long-term responses of ecological structure and function to urban stressors such as toxins, pests, pathogens, and climate change (Q1); how configuration and connectivity of urban nature habitat patches and impervious cover at the drainage network and landscape scales influence long-term hydrology, urban climate, and water quality (Q2); how ecological, hydrological, and climate processes of urban nature create benefits and burdens for diverse human communities over time, and in turn how governance, policy, and practice can change to improve equity of urban nature decisions (Q3); and how the long-term process of growing inclusive relationships for knowledge creation and practice change scientific and community outcomes in the urban ecosystem (Q4). Check out our specific questions.