Plants and animals play an important role in cities

More than half of the world's population lives in cities, making urbanisation one of the most significant drivers of global environmental change today. Cities have an impact on ecology, biodiversity and natural resources that far exceeds their size, as they draw upon natural resources such as water and food, and deposit wastes in areas that range from a few kilometres to tens of thousands of kilometres. Understanding the ecology and biodiversity of cities is therefore increasingly a critical task. Yet, until the end of the 20th century, ecologists tended to focus their attention outside cities and in more “natural” areas, with the result that little was known about the extent of urban biodiversity, the patterns of distribution, the processes that shape these patterns, or changes over time.

Urbanisation is an exceptionally dynamic force in India, where unprecedented urban growth rates have occurred over the last two decades, transforming what was till recently a predominantly rural country, into a major urbanised population. Yet, there is a sad lack of basic information on ecological and environmental aspects of our cities — indeed, on most cities located in economically industrialising and transforming parts of the world including South Asia.

Full article can be read in The Hindu's Survey of the Environment 2010. The publication is now on stands. Copies can be obtained by Registered Post (not V.P.P.) for Rs.80 (Rupees Eighty) by drawing a cheque in favour of "Kasturi and Sons Ltd." (Add Rs.10 for non-Chennai cheques) and sending it to the Circulation Department, The Hindu, 859-860, Anna Salai, Chennai 600002 Email: subs@thehindu.co.in

Harini Nagendra is a DST Ramanujan Fellow, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bangalore, and Asia Research Coordinator at Center for the Study of Institutions, Population, and Environmental Change (CIPEC), Indiana University. She has worked on studies of land cover change and forest institutions in South Asia for over 15 years, but has recently turned her attention to investigations of urban ecology and biodiversity, with a focus on Bengaluru and Delhi.