Valuing the role of time in urban ecology

Alessandro Ossola*, Mary L. Cadenasso, Emily K. Meineke

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)
    12 Downloads (Pure)


    Cities and towns are complex ecosystems with features that can vary dramatically in space and time. Our knowledge of the spatial structure of urban land and ecological systems is expanding. These systems have been investigated across spatial scales, urban to rural gradients, networks of urban macrosystems, and global megalopolises. However, the temporal dimensions of urban ecosystems – such as those related to ecological cycles and historical legacies – are far less understood and investigated. Here, we outline the main dimensions of time that can shape how events in urban ecosystems unfold, which we categorize as: (i) time flows and duration, (ii) synchrony, lags, and delays, (iii) trends and transitions, (iv) cycles and hysteresis, (v) legacies and priming, (vi) temporal hotspots and hot moments, and (vii) stochastic vs. deterministic processes affecting our ability to forecast the future of cities and the species that live in them. First, we demonstrate the roles of these understudied dimensions by discussing exemplary studies. We then propose key future research directions for investigating how processes over time may regulate the structure and functioning of urban land and biodiversity, as well as its effects on and implications for urban ecology. Our analysis and conceptual framework highlights that several temporal dimensions of urban ecosystems – like those related to temporal hotspots/moments and stochastic vs. deterministic processes – are understudied. This offers important research opportunities to further urban ecology and a comprehensive research agenda valuing the “Urban Chronos” – the change of urban ecosystems through time.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number620620
    Number of pages13
    JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
    Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2021

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2021. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • urban dynamics
    • urban change detection
    • history
    • urban development
    • urban trajectories


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