Ecology and environmental justice: Understanding disturbance using ecological theory

Steward T.A. Pickett, Christopher Boone, Mary L. Cadenasso

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

6 Scopus citations


The different cultures of social equity and ecological science can be bridged by an enhanced understanding of the occurrence of environmental hazards and benefits. Knowledge about ecological disturbance improves understanding of how socio-ecological systems respond to the events that disrupt the structure of systems and the flows of resources within them. It is important to recognize that not all instances of a kind of event, such as fire or flood, will be equally disruptive. In part this is because there are many ecological modifiers, such as biological structure of an ecosystem, topography, and the specific weather and other conditions in place before and during an event, that affect individual events. Furthermore, the human, institutional, and infrastructural capitals available in different locations operate along with biophysical factors that modify disturbance and the response to it. Biophysical response to disturbance is motivated by successional capacity, the resource base of the site, and the neighboring landscape context. Environmental injustices are remarkably persistent due to biophysical patterns of these modifying factors in space. Ecological theory embodies the understanding of disturbance patterns through time and space, lays out the assumptions about the structure of affected systems, and extends the knowledge base beyond the memory of people who must plan for and react to environmental disturbances and stresses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationUrbanization and Sustainability
Subtitle of host publicationLinking Urban Ecology, Environmental Justice and Global Environmental Change
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9789400756663
ISBN (Print)9789400756656
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013


  • Disturbance
  • Ecological modifiers
  • Equity
  • Successional capacity
  • Topography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science


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