The cooling footprint of green infrastructure and influence on urban invertebrate communities

3 minute read

close up of bee in flower gathering nectar

Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Invertebrate biodiversity is essential in cities as they represent diverse roles in trophic interactions as they feed on vegetation, are fed upon by birds and other wildlife and are foundational for numerous ecosystem services including pollination and pest control. The liveability of urban environments for people is connected to these diverse and abundant ‘little creatures that run the world’.

In this project, we will evaluate the contribution of different Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) to human thermal comfort, fine-scale microclimates and the diversity and adaptive response of invertebrates.

Specifically, we are interested in understanding how different biotic and abiotic drivers filter urban invertebrate communities, and the relative importance of each to both flower visitors and the reproductive success of two taxa: solitary bees and wasps. We will investigate these relationships in Toronto and Melbourne, two large and growing cities with different climatological conditions.

As cities get warmer with climate change and urban impervious surface construction, people and nature will become increasingly dependent on GSI, and in this project, we strive to ensure the best knowledge is available to practitioners.

This PhD project forms part of a cluster collaboration between the University of Toronto and the University of Melbourne titled: Optimizing green infrastructure to support water sensitive and cool urban communities.

Project goals

The goals of this project are to:

  1. Select locations in each city representing hot (temperature) and cool spots, as well as variation in urban land cover. At each site, the candidate will record temperature within vegetation structure, and the surfaces of vegetation using thermal imaging, and record the movements of solitary bees and wasps in relation to the plant and temperature variables.
  2. Additionally, the candidate will determine the reproductive success under different abiotic and biotic conditions by setting up an experiment to record the use of nest boxes with different temperatures.
  3. Interpret the relative contribution of abiotic and biotic factors to species community composition is a critical step in urban design and planning of GSI that supports critical biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Supervision team

Who we are looking for

This project will be based in Scarborough on the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. We acknowledge that Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 signed with the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the Williams Treaties signed with multiple Mississaugas and Chippewa bands.

The Melbourne component of the project will be based at Burnley campus on the lands of the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung and Bunurong/Boon Wurrung peoples, who have been custodians of the area for thousands of years.  We acknowledge that these are unceded lands and support the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria in the treaty process that is currently underway.

We are firmly committed to the principles of Diversity and Inclusion, and all applications will be evaluated relative to prior opportunities. Workplace accommodations for people with a disability can be raised prior to the application through a direct email to the supervisors or discussed with short-listed candidates during the interview phase. Candidates from underrepresented groups are particularly encouraged to apply.

We are seeking a PhD candidate with the following skills:

  • Demonstrated experience in the field of ecosystems and forest sciences/urban ecology
  • Demonstrated ability to work independently and as part of the team
  • Demonstrated time and project management skills
  • Demonstrated ability to write research reports or other publications to a publishable standard (even if not published to date)
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills.
  • Demonstrated organisational skills, time management and ability to work to priorities.
  • Demonstrated problem-solving abilities.
  • Willingness to complete fieldwork in an urban setting
  • The ability to work independently and as a member of a team

Further details

The PhD candidate will profit from the combined expertise of the project supervisors, and the embedding into two research environments. Dr Amy Hahs and Professor Nicholas Williams at the University of Melbourne will contribute their expertise in comparative urban ecology, plant traits and plant-pollinator interactions and Assistant Professor Scott MacIvor at the University of Toronto will contribute expertise in community ecology, melittology, and green infrastructure.

This PhD project will be based at the University of Toronto with a minimum 12-month stay at the University of Melbourne.

The candidate will be enrolled in the PhD program at the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences at the University of Toronto, and in the PhD program at the School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

To apply for this joint PhD opportunity, and to view the entry requirements, visit How to apply.

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