Taking the long view

With $7.1 million, the University of Minnesota and partners to launch a long-term program to study urban nature in the Twin Cities
March 15, 2021

The University of Minnesota, the University of St. Thomas, the U.S. Forest ServiceThe Nature Conservancy, and Water Bar have received $7.1 million over six years from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to launch the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Area Urban Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program. From mapping heavy metals and salt in soils across the Twin Cities metro to better understanding the intersection of investments in urban nature and racial injustice, researchers will launch an initial nine research projects and initiatives.

“By bringing together researchers from across institutions and fields of study, we will be able to explore how urban residents and urban nature interact with each other and how they respond to environmental and social change,” said Sarah Hobbie, the lead investigator on the LTER program and professor at the University of Minnesota’s College of Biological Sciences. “Ultimately, we want to figure out ways to understand and improve environmental outcomes for all people living in a city.”

Urban nature, such as streams and urban forests, provides a number of benefits from flood relief to helping cities adapt to heat waves. However, urban nature continues to be under stressors caused by a number of factors, including climate change, invasive pests, pollutants, and habitat loss and fragmentation.

“Not all benefits and burdens are experienced equally, though,” said project co-lead Mae Davenport, a professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. “Through the LTER program, we will be engaging with, listening to, and learning from Black, Indigenous and people of color to acknowledge and address systematic discriminatory practices in urban ecosystem science, policy and management.”

Among the research, education and engagement efforts:

  • A team led by Leslie Brandt, U.S. Forest Service, and Jeannine Cavender-Bares, University of Minnesota: Examining how urban forests can become more resilient to withstand stressors, such as climate change and pests.
  • A team led by Susannah Lerman, U.S. Forest Service, and Adam Kay, University of St. Thomas: Testing the effectiveness of the new state-wide “Bee Lawn” program for transforming the Twin Cities metro into a refuge for pollinators.
  • A team led by Bonnie Keeler, University of Minnesota, and Kate Derickson, University of Minnesota: Collecting evidence of the relationship between urban-nature investments and wealth inequality using property values as a proxy for wealth. Investigating the effectiveness of policy interventions that can promote neighborhood stability in a changing urban landscape to promote green investment without displacement.
  • A team led by Holly Menninger, Bell Museum: Working with teachers to develop resources for using urban nature in their own school yards and neighborhoods to engage with students about science in ways that meet state science standards.

Learn more about every Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Area Urban LTER program projects and initiatives.

Additionally, scientists and others from the University of Minnesota’s College of Biological SciencesCollege of Science & EngineeringCollege of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource SciencesCollege of Liberal ArtsHumphrey School of Public AffairsInstitute on the EnvironmentBell Museum; and Saint Anthony Falls Laboratory will conduct research, education, and community engagement efforts across the Twin Cities.


From a University of Minnesota News Release | March 15, 2021