Resilience in an urban socioecological system: water management as a driver of landscape and biodiversity in the Fresno-Clovis Metropolitan Area, California.

As noted here a couple of weeks ago, I recently received word of being awarded my first National Science Foundation grant for a collaborative project on urban water use and biodiversity here in the growing Fresno-Clovis Metro Area. This is the biggest grant proposal I’ve ever written, involving as it did 20 collaborators from 4 different institutions (CSU-Fresno, UC Davis, UC Merced, and the local station of the USDA Forest Service) spanning the disciplines/departments of biology, geography, plant sciences, psychology, anthropology, sociology, water technology, political science, natural science, education, and earth and environmental science. Whew! 

What did I just try to bite off? – I remember thinking a year ago after hitting that submit button! What on earth did I go and do that for? 

Nevertheless, our proposal got great reviews – just falling short of making it into the first group of 17 projects funded under the Urban Long-Term Research Area Exploratory Award (ULTRA-Ex), but remaining on a “waiting list” pending additional funds. And now, after a long wait, we are actually getting the grant!

So what did we bite off, you ask? Here’s an abstract of what we will be chewing on over the next two years – and do keep coming back here for I will try to share what we learn as we go along:


Resilience in an urban socioecological system: water management as a driver of landscape and biodiversity in the Fresno-Clovis Metropolitan Area, California.

PI: Madhusudan Katti, California State University, Fresno

Co-PIs: C. Derya Özgöç-Çağlar (CSU-Fresno), Mary L. Cadenasso (UC-Davis), John T. Bushoven (CSUF), Andrew R. Jones (CSUF).


Human beings have transformed the Earth into an increasingly urban planet, with nearly half of humanity now living in cities. A city is a unique type of ecosystem where human social, economic, and cultural activities play a prominent role in shaping the landscape, in turn influencing the distribution and abundance of other species, and consequent patterns of biodiversity. The long-term sustainability of cities is of increasing concern as they continue to grow, straining the infrastructure and pushing against environmental constraints on available natural resources. A key natural resource is water, especially in the more rapidly urbanizing arid regions of the world. Understanding water management and use in cities is therefore critical to developing a deeper theoretical understanding of urban ecosystems as well as effective urban policy. The American West faces a water crisis. Drought, urban growth, climate change, and the continued demands of agriculture have combined to heighten the competition among water users, and spurred the search for institutional arrangements to conserve water. A common tool used by governments to regulate and reduce water consumption is the water meter, combined with a use-based pricing structure. In the rapidly urbanizing San Joaquin Valley of California, located in an arid region subject to prolonged drought cycles likely to get exacerbated under regional climate change projections, many cities are now installing meters to reduce household water use. Metering is expected to reduce water availability throughout the urban ecosystem, with residential landscaping choices mediating its effects upon the distribution of plants and animals. Urban land use decisions result from dynamic interactions between institutional and individual level factors. Landscaping and irrigation at any particular residence, for example, is a product of local environmental conditions, the homeowners’ cultural preferences, socioeconomic status, neighborhood dynamics, as well as zoning laws, market conditions, city policies, and county/state/federal government regulations. Since land use is a key determinant of habitat for other species, overall urban biodiversity is strongly driven by the outcome of interactions between these variables, but these interactions remain poorly understood. This project will address the significance of water as a key resource shaping regional patterns of landscape and biodiversity in the Fresno-Clovis Metropolitan Area. Fresno is currently installing water meters and will start charging for use by 2013, while Clovis has been doing so for almost a century. This contrast in water policies between the two cities provides a unique comparative experimental opportunity to study the impact of metering on human landscaping choices and consequent patterns of urban biodiversity. The objectives of this project are to analyze and contrast current patterns of water use in these cities, focusing on: 1) institutional policy and decision making regarding metering, 2) individual homeowner decision making about landscaping, 3) landscape structure at multiple spatial scales, and, 4) patterns in the distribution of plant and bird diversity. The study relies on a range of methods from multiple disciplines including field observations, institutional and individual homeowner surveys, face-to-face interviews with stakeholders, geographical information systems, remote sensing, global positioning systems, statistical tools, systems modeling, and advanced computer visualization techniques. In addition to addressing many fundamental ecological and socioeconomic questions, the research will be tightly integrated with the education of undergraduate and graduate students, and a strong citizen science component built upon the ongoing Fresno Bird Count project. 

The project will have significant implications for urban socio-ecological theory, methodology, and application.  In terms of theory, this project will shed light on complex dynamics of interrelated processes among government regulatory policies, human behavior, landscape and habitat structure, and plant and bird distribution at multiple spatial and temporal scales. In terms of methodology, the research will integrate multidisciplinary methods and advanced technologies to investigate the complexity of the study system, leveraging a “natural” experiment occurring due to Fresno’s installation of water meters, and involving citizen scientist participation in data gathering. With respect to application, the project will provide practical information for urban governance by measuring the impact of a common regulatory tool on citizen behavior, and resulting impacts on landscape and biodiversity. Understanding the relationships among institutions, individual citizens, and biodiversity will help guide urban planning towards more sustainable, resilient, and environmentally healthy cities, in the region and throughout the world. This project is supported by an Urban Long-Term Research Area Exploratory Award.


The above “public” abstract is the one that will appear on NSF’s website after they’ve completed the paperwork to start our grant. Our proposal, ofcourse, had the usual, more technical, Project Summary, which you can read/download below the fold.

Fresno-ULTRA-Ex Project Summary.pdf
Download this file

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