Baltimore Ecosystem Study

Stream sampling at BES LTER, June 2002

Key Research Findings:

Contrary to popular perception, Whites in urban Baltimore are more likely than African-Americans to live near facilities that pose health risks. A long history of segregation denied African-American residents the advantage of living close to workplace factories that may now expose those close by to toxins.
BES scientists have pioneered a new system for classifying the diverse land types in urban areas. This groundbreaking land classification system more accurately reflects ecological processes in cities and suburbs and better predicts potential changes in water quality and bird diversity -- strengthening the toolbox for urban land managers.
Streamside ecosystems in urban areas do not function like those in wild and rural areas because they are often disconnected from adjacent streams by pavement and other barriers that alter the flow of water. As a consequence, urban streams are not as protected from nitrate and other pollution draining cities and suburbs.


The Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) aims to understand metropolitan Baltimore as an ecological system. The program brings together researchers from the biological, physical, and social sciences to collect new data and synthesize existing information on how both the ecological and engineered systems of Baltimore work.

As a part of the National Science Foundation's Long-Term Ecological Research Network, we also seek to understand how Baltimore's ecosystems change over long time periods.

The ecological knowledge we create helps support educational and community-based activities, and interactions between the project and the Baltimore community are important components of our project. Such an integrative project includes many disciplines and many research and educational institutions, both in Baltimore and beyond.

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Baltimore has a long history of social science research that takes an ecological perspective. This is quite rare, and means that we will be able to very readily connect ecological and physical sciences research with an already well developed understanding of the social organization and processes in Baltimore. Researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Johns Hopkins University, and the US Geological Survey are key members of the LTER team. In addition, there are wonderful paleoecological (ancient) records, and great geographic data and historical records. The connection with the Chesapeake Bay is also important. Last, but by no means least, there is a well established and mutually respectful network of interaction between researchers, community leaders, managers, and policy makers. Revitalizing Baltimore and the Parks and People Foundation have been crucial in maintaining these links.

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Research Topics:

Patch dynamics of built, social, biological, and hydrological components of the metropolitan area; feedbacks between social, economic, and ecological components of an urban ecosystem; effect of infrastructure and development on fluxes of nutrients, energy, and water in upland, stream, and coastal regions of metropolitan Baltimore.

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