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Central Arizona Phoenix Long Term Ecological Research Site

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CAP3: Urban Sustainability in the Dynamic Environment of Central Arizona, USA  (Arizona State University)

Research Focus

The Central Arizona-Phoenix (CAP) Long–Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER) project provides an important addition to LTER research by focusing on an arid land ecosystem profoundly influenced by human activities. It is one of two LTER sites that specifically studies urban ecology.

Biological, physical, social and engineering scientists and a wide range of community partners are working together to study the structure and function of the urban ecosystem, assess the effects of urban development on the Sonoran Desert, and understand the distribution and perception of ecosystem services in metropolitan Phoenix.

The central question that guides the project’s research is, how do services provided by evolving urban ecosystems affect human outcomes and behavior, and how do humans alter patterns of ecosystem structure and function and thus urban sustainability.

Research Outcomes

Preserving birds in the city: Research by CAP scientists has shown that native vegetation in urban areas supports native bird species better than grass lawns, thus preserving avian biodiversity in cities. The research made use of innovative techniques to quantify bird foraging behavior in both mesic (grass) yards and yards with desert-like landscaping.

Nitrogen sources: In a comprehensive study of the nitrogen mass balance for the CAP ecosystem, researchers found that anthropogenic sources far outstrip natural sources of nitrogen.

Heat island effect: CAP researchers also have been instrumental in studying the Phoenix urban heat island, creating a substantial and influential body of research.

CAP has a series of research highlights on its Web site.

Education & Outreach

CAP LTER conducts community outreach at many levels. For the K-12 community CAP LTER offers Ecology Explorers, a program that aims to develop and implement a schoolyard ecology program where students collect data similar to CAP LTER data. The program also improves science literacy by exposing students and teachers to research conducted by university-level scientists, and enhances teachers’ capabilities to design lessons and activities that use scientific inquiry and encourage science. CAP LTER provides opportunities for undergraduate students to apply theories and principles learned in the classroom to field and laboratory research via its summer NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. Graduate student research and mentoring are also fundamental to CAP LTER’s mission. CAP LTER provides an excellent platform for graduate research which has been instrumental in forwarding scientific inquiry under the project.

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Images (1 of )

  • butterfly on flowering succulent plants
  • Phoenix cityscape
  • desert scene, sand and scrub
  • photo of tall cactus
Butterfly on Texas Ranger plant
J. C. Phillips
Permission Granted
The CAP LTER studies how urbanization alters aridland ecosystems
Carnegia gigantea
S. Whitcomb