Synthesis in the city: urban evolutionary ecology of plants

University of Toronto-Mississauga, Canada

27–30 July 2017


Our goal is to synthesize and identify important research directions in plant urban evolutionary ecology. Our workshop will create a forum for productive engagement by including researchers from a breadth of disciplines and professional stages (from undergraduates to leaders in the field).


We will integrate diverse knowledge and approaches – from plants to multitrophic communities and ecosystems in an eco-evolutionary framework. In this way, our approach will inform future research designed to understand, predict, and mitigate the impacts of urbanization on the persistence of species and ecosystems.


Synthesis in the city will represent an unprecedented opportunity to build a foundation for research vital to the maintenance of functional plant commnities and whole ecosystems on our increasingly urbanized planet.


Rationale and scope

Over half of the world's human population now reside in cities that comprise 3-5% of Earth's land area and c. 20% of the Earth's plants. These urban plant communities contain diverse mixtures of cultivated and native species that co-exist across mosaics of anthropogenically altered landscapes. The biological communities built upon this novel biotic and abiotic framework contain many taxa in common that are well adapted to urban environments. Yet cities also possess unique historical contexts and coincide with hotspots of regional biodiversity, which promotes distinct urban biotas.


Underlying this duality are trends that lend urgency to the challenge of urban conservation: invasive species, population extinctions, and adaptation are occurring in urban environments on contemporary timescales. Fuelled by recent advances in molecular genetic methods and their application to non-model organisms, recognition of these trends is contributing to fast growth in urban evolutionary ecology.


While this research area has never been more relevant to basic and applied problems in plant biology and human society, urban evolutionary ecology currently lacks synthesis and fundamental questions remain unanswered. Our workshop will seek to address several key questions:


  1. Can theories and concepts of ecology and evolution be merged to build a unified predictive eco-evolutionary framework for studying plant evolutionary ecology in urban settings?
  2. Using this eco-evolutionary framework, how do ecological changes associated with urbanization influence plant evolution (e.g. by altering selection, drift, or dispersal)?
  3. What are the impacts of urban evolutionary processes on the ecology of plant populations, multitrophic communities, and ecosystem processes?
  4. How can urban evolutionary ecology be translated into policy and urban planning guidelines to conserve ecologically important plant populations and their associated communities and ecosystem services?



Download the programme [pdf, 700 KB].


Organising committee

  • Prof. Marc Johnson (marc dot johnson at utoronto dot ca)
  • Dr. Amanda Nelson
  • Ruth Rivkin