The ecology and biodiversity of urban ponds
Recent research has demonstrated that ponds contribute a great deal to biodiversity at a regional level as networks of habitat patches that also act as ‘stepping stones’ to facilitate the movement of species through the landscape. Similarly, a great deal of biodiversity persists in urban environments where synanthropic communities are supplemented by species that thrive in disturbed environments. Aquatic urban biodiversity appears to persist despite anthropogenic stressors: an array of anthropogenic pollutants (road salt and heavy metals), invasive species, and active mismanagement—particularly the removal of riparian vegetation. Optimizing urban ponds for different ecosystem services results in conflicting priorities over hydrological, geochemical, ecological, aesthetic, and cultural functions. The socio-ecosystem approach to environmental management opens a path to greater incorporation of biodiversity into town planning and sustainability, while accounting for cultural attitudes to urban ecosystems. I identify a range of research needs: (1) the roles of design and location of urban ponds in influencing biodiversity, (2) the function of urban wetlands for stormwater and pollution management, and (3) public perceptions of urban ecosystems and how those perceptions are influenced by interactions with natural systems. Urban wetlands offer an important opportunity to educate the general public on natural systems and science in general using a resource that is located on their doorstep. In the face of increasing pressures on natural systems and increasing extent and intensity of urbanization, a more comprehensive appreciation of the challenges and opportunities provided by urban ponds could play a substantial role in driving sustainable urban development.