Urban Ethnobiology

Session Type: 
Session Date and Time: 
Thursday, 25 April, 2024 - 13:30 to 15:00
Primary Organizer: 
Daniela Shebitz
Kean University
Email address: 

Although it is all too easy to consider humanity as separate from the environment in urban areas, many cities offer unique opportunities to foster community connections through environmental stewardship. Through this session, ethnobiologists located in cities throughout the world will share work revolving around a similar theme: How are urban communities connecting with nature in a disconnected environment? Topics can include community-based conservation, environmental education, urban parks and recreation, immigration/refugee gardens, urban agriculture, and more. These activities work to improve both environmental conditions and human health and well-being.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, Alison - SUNY-ESF

The categorization of species as Non-Timber Forest Products belies their diversity and relationships with the communities they coexist with, rendering them a sort of invisible commodity. This is especially true for culturally significant species that persist in urban forest ecosystems. Lack of protection and regulation can result in their overexploitation, eroding the practice of lifeways and food sovereignty by Indigenous communities. Here, I show how the iconic spring ephemeral herb, Allium tricoccum, more commonly known as the wild leek or ramp, exists at the nexus of ecological economics, food sovereignty, and urban forest renewal. Using a combination of field studies, spatial analysis, and community activism, I address the multiplicity of valuation surrounding A. tricoccum, and how it can inform restoration and conservation decision-making.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, Jessica - University of Guelph & Plenty Canada; Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe Environment

Indigenous-led conservation and knowledge systems have gained significant recognition at the federal levels of the United States and Canada, as critical sources of environmental knowledge for research, policy, and planning, and for honoring nation-to-nation relationships with Indigenous nations. The Wisdom from Knowledge team has created a digital Indigenous Botanical Survey of the Greenbelt protected lands which encompass the Greater Toronto Area, Niagara Escarpment, and Oak Ridges Moraine. The survey incorporates Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe ethnobotany and plant ecology research, in service of uplifting and re-storying enduring Indigenous relationships with plants and trees within the Greenbelt. These learning tools are carefully designed for Native communities to restore and regenerate their language and biocultural relationships in their homelands. They are also intended for visitors to engage in placed-based learning on these urban and peri-urban landscapes, and are robust tools for policy-makers to bridge knowledges when crafting equitable decision-making, conservation, and planning processes.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, Ricky - Chicago Botanic Garden
, Gretel - Chicago Botanic Garden
, Ingrid - Chicago Botanic Garden
, Grant - Chicago Botanic Garden

​​Conserving plants is crucial for the future of the natural world and humanity. With nearly 30% of native plant species in the U.S. facing extinction, threats such as habitat loss, invasive species, and climate change persist. Addressing this, the Plants of Concern (POC) citizen science initiative by the Chicago Botanic Garden trains community members in rare plant monitoring. Utilizing the POC mobile app, volunteers assess the health of endangered plants, generating crucial long-term data. This information guides natural areas adaptive management practices while also facilitating research into rare plant population dynamics. Collaborating with researchers, POC plays a pivotal role in providing baseline information and aids the state in evaluating rare plant distribution for threatened and endangered species listings. Through these efforts, POC serves as a crucial link connecting people and the enviorment to safeguard the rich tapestry of plant life, preventing the permanent loss of species from the landscape.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, Daniela - Kean University
Ospina Parra
, Andres - Kean University

The Miyawaki Method of regenerating and rehabilitating forests is increasingly being adopted by urban communities globally. By planting fast-growing groves of native vegetation on vacant urban lots, communities are actively addressing environmental issues including flooding, heat island effects, and biodiversity. There are two objectives to this paper: 1) to present an overall summary of what is being done regarding microforests in formerly redlined communities and 2) to present data that uses soil microbial dynamics and quality as a means of predicting the future success of the microforests in providing suitable environmental conditions for vegetation. We focus on three microforests in urban New Jersey and compare soil and plant dynamics with adjacent un-planted sites (as controls) and an intact forest nearby (as a reference site). Our overall goal is for this paper to serve as a toolkit for other urban communities considering afforestation to combat the environmental effects of urbanization.

Presentation format: 
Oral (live)
, Erana - The University Of Waikato

Relationships of Indigenous people to the natural world are expressed according to the locale, knowledge, and practices of indigenous communities. Māori (the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand) trace lineage to nature that informs a cultural stewardship concept known as Kaitiakitanga. This concept advocates for the protection of kin of the natural environment and ensures lasting nature relationships prevail for Māori. However, cities present new barriers for Māori to maintain connections with the natural world and the expression of cultural practices and knowledge.This presentation shares survey data about the application of kaitiakitanga in urban spaces of Aotearoa New Zealand. The presentation reveals barriers that impact kaitiakitanga but also the implications of such barriers on ecological restoration in urban areas. The presentation shares the value of cultural stewardship knowledge and practice for the restoration of biodiversity but also the livelihoods of urban indigenous peoples.