To many wildlife species the urban environment is not a good place to be and it often acts as a barrier. However, there are two species that have adapted, and in one case, do better in an urban environment that we unintentionally created for them. The species that is doing better is the Eastern long-necked turtle in Australia. Their native habitat is freshwater, but they’ve made themselves at home in the Australian suburbs. They move around easily by making use of vegetated culverts and drainage lines created to manage stormwater. This creates a whole network of movement for them and researchers found they traveled significantly more than their counterparts living in the nature reserves. In that respect the suburbs had the same effect on the turtles as it does their human neighbors, longer commutes. The stormwater management system benefited the turtles in other ways as well by creating retaining ponds which provided water when the nature reserves were suffering from a drought. The researchers found as a result of this artificial habitat the turtles appeared to live and survive better than the turtles living in the nature reserve.

This is a fascinating idea that stormwater management systems can be used as habitat. Here in the Pacific Northwest stormwater management has become a huge focus and there have been  many new award-winning designs. I’m unaware however, of any stormwater management designs that focus on habitat and connectivity by the use of  culverts and swales to provide movement for species. It certainly is an idea that could have important design impacts.

The second species who has adapted to the urban lifestyle is the hedgehog. A recent study has shown that hedgehogs in the UK have a certain preference for different types of yards and gardens. Female hedgehogs prefer the gardens behind houses and on houses that are not detached. The researchers theorize this is because in part of the abundance of food but also because it’s a safer area away from urban badgers, people and dogs. Male hedgehogs are more bold and roam through the front gardens. Urban hedgehogs also appear to have changed their schedule by being more active in the night hours to avoid disturbance from people, dogs and cars. Unlike the turtles, life in the urban environment isn’t necessarily easier for the hedgehogs, but they’re finding ways to adapt to make it better for themselves.

All these behavioural responses suggest that avoiding the particular risks presented by an urban environment has a strong influence on hedgehog behaviour, just as it does for foxes and badgers. They clearly have the capacity to cope with the challenges provided by human-dominated habitats and thus make a successful transition from rural to urban living. -Professor Stephen Harris

Now if only all wildlife species were so cooperative.

Further Reading:

Turtles prefer the ‘city life’:: BBC Earth News

Male and female hedgehogs prefer different gardens:: BBC Earth News

British Hedgehog Preservation Society

Urban otters join foxes and squirrels in Britain’s towns and cities:: Telegraph

Kelly Brenner
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Kelly Brenner

Kelly Brenner is a naturalist and writer based in Seattle. She founded and writes The Metropolitan Field Guide, a blog for ideas, thoughts and resources for the design of urban wildlife habitat and has contributed articles to a variety of other websites and publications.

Kelly has a certificate from the University of Washington in non-fiction writing. She continually takes classes and attends talks on various natural history topics. In 2009 she earned a bachelors degree in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon.

She's also an avid photographer focusing on the natural world.
Kelly Brenner
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Commenting area

  1. Fascinating difference between the preferences of the female and male hedgehog!

    By the way, the Sustainable Sites Initiative briefly mentions stormwater management design (swales) and wildlife habitat here http://www.sustainablecitiesinstitute.org/view/page.basic/class/feature.class/Lesson_Swales_Overview.

  2. Thanks, this article helped me alot

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