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Urbanization and the Environment

04/16/2010

Dr. Daniel Shustack, an environmental studies professor at MCLA who specializes in ornithology - the study of birds - on Friday kicked off a five-week workshop series on urbanization and the environment.

In his lecture, "Impacts of Urbanization on Birds," Shustack highlighted the different ways in which birds are affected when much of their natural habitat is replaced with buildings.

"It's not just about pigeons and starlings and other common urban birds," says Shustack. "There are other species that find valuable habitats in parks and small green spaces. We will find that there's potential for these areas to provide valuable habitat for native species.

"We live in an increasingly urbanizing world," he continues. "The urban footprint around the globe is growing. The number of people living in urban areas is growing. One aspect of a quality urban living environment for people is to have parks and patches of native vegetation where they can go and take a walk through the forest and see and experience something of nature without having to travel for hours and hours away from cities."

Shustack says some interesting behavioral changes occur in birds as they adapt in response to the urbanization of their natural habitats.

 "We have examples of raptor species like peregrine falcons that historically would not have lived in urban areas. But now, a large proportion of the population in eastern North America is living in urban areas," he says. "They're nesting in bridges, nesting on tall buildings, and eating the pigeons, the house sparrows and the starlings that are living in the cities."

Whether it's a city in Canada, Argentina or somewhere in China, Shustack says the structure of the built environment is very similar around the globe.

"So, we get this homogenization of increasing similarities of the bird communities, regardless of where it is geographically," he explains. "That's a relatively new phenomenon with the widespread expansion of urban areas. Then, we also have people deliberately and unintentionally moving species around, transplanting them to another area. They become global travelers, just like us."

Additional lectures in the series will include "The Effect of Urbanization on Streams" on April 23, to be given by environmental studies professor Elena Traister; "Ginseng" on April 30, presented by biology professor Emily Mooney; "Urbanization and Marine Invaders" on May 7, to be delivered by biology professor Ann Goodwin; and "Detection of Emerging Contaminants in our Waterways" on May 14 by Lauren Moffatt, coordinator of the Berkshire Environmental Resource Center at MCLA.

Lectures in this series will begin at 2 p.m. in Murdock Hall, room 213. The events are free and open to the public.

The series is being presented by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), a program of Berkshire Community College (BCC) in partnership with MCLA, Williams College and Bard College at Simon's Rock. For more information, go to http://berkshireolli.tripod.com/Catalog_Spring_2010.pdf.