Central Arizona - Phoenix LTER

Service at Salado (CAP's Schoolyard program) students visit Phoenix's Rio Salado Project

Key Research Findings:

CAP scientists test theories about plant and animal diversity in cities. In Phoenix, plant diversity is higher compared with the surrounding Sonoran desert because of landscaping to create a desert "oasis city." However, exotic and invasive birds and arthropods often out-compete native species in the city.
Research in Phoenix, Baltimore, and Boston revealed that household decision-making and income shape patterns of plant and bird diversity in residential landscapes.
CAP scientists generated new insights about urban ecosystems, such as improved stormwater management approaches, that urban planners and policymakers have used to design cities to optimize public benefits.


The Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER) project is one of 26 LTER sites funded by the National Science Foundation. Launched in 1997 along with the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) as the first urban LTER sites, CAP LTER has been instrumental in establishing urban ecology as a recognized and important area of ecological inquiry.

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Urbanization of the arid regions of the Southwest US is a comparatively recent phenomenon, with its meteoric expansion largely coming after World War II. In the 1995 US Census, 8 of the 10 fastest-growing cities and 6 of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas were in the arid Southwest.

Arizona has been the second fastest-growing state for the past six years, with Phoenix as its capital and the largest city in the Southwest. The Phoenix metropolitan area's spectacular growth in population — doubling twice in the past 35 years — and its rapid and continuing expansion into former agricultural and pristine settings provides a unique opportunity to monitor human-induced ecological transformations, resulting from rapid land-use transformations.

Research Topics:

CAP LTER is a multi-disciplinary, urban ecological investigation of the socio-ecological systems in central Arizona. The central research question that guides the project's research is: How do the services provided by evolving urban ecosystems affect human outcomes and behavior, and how does human action (responses) alter patterns of ecosystem structure and function, and ultimately, urban sustainability, in a dynamic environment?

To address this question, the CAP LTER project relies on data from five foundational research areas and analyses conducted in four integrative project areas. In addition, CAP conducts synthesis activities across all project areas, focusing on results from the first 12 years of CAP research, as well as activities to construct scenarios of future change in Central Arizona.

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