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Wealth, race, and wildlife: The impacts of structural inequality on urban wildlife

Chris Schell
University of Washington, Tacoma | Assistant Professor, Sciences and Mathematics, division of School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences
Seminar date:
Tuesday, August 25, 2020 - 10:00

Urban ecosystems are intrinsically heterogenous, characterized by dynamic biotic and abiotic interactions that are not witnessed in non-urban environments. Urban flora and fauna experience a suite of novel disturbances and stressors that have led to remarkable phenotypic strategies and adaptations to cope with urban living. Despite recent groundbreaking discoveries and innovation in the fields of urban ecology and evolution, the drivers of urban heterogeneity that induce biological change are seldom articulated. The spatiotemporal distributions of urban organisms are directly affected by the uneven distribution of resources (e.g., refugia, food, water) across cities, all of which are connected to societal function and governance. Hence, to build a comprehensive understanding of urban systems and wildlife adaptation, we must integrate and reconcile how structural inequality – especially racism and classism – shape urban environmental mosaics. In this seminar talk, Dr. Chris Schell will discuss how structural and systemic inequalities, especially economic and racial inequality, shape ecological and evolutionary outcomes of wildlife. In addition, he will discuss how certain species (e.g. coyotes and raccoons) may serve as ecosystem sentinels or bioindicators of environmental health and inequity. In doing so, we will discuss how leading with an environmental justice and activism framework in the natural sciences can promote conversation, sustainability, and resilience in a human-dominated world.

About the speaker:
Dr. Chris Schell is an urban ecologist whose research integrates evolutionary theory with ecological application to disentangle the processes accentuating human-carnivore conflict. Specifically, Chris’ interests lie in understanding the physiological mechanisms and anthropogenic drivers that may contribute to fearless behavior in urban carnivores. His research is uniquely tied to the community: urban ecology is inherently a synergy of anthropogenic forces and natural processes. Hence, he often works closely with nondominant communities (e.g. ethnic and racial minorities), wildlife managers, cultural institutions, and philanthropic organizations to help foster mutually enriching relationships among people and wildlife. Concurrently, he strives to increase representation and affect positive change in STEM.

Chris received his B.A. in Psychology from Columbia University (2009) and his masters and Ph.D in Evolutionary Biology from the University of Chicago (2015). Since joining the faculty in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington, Tacoma (2018), Chris has launched the Grit City Carnivore Project, a research collaborative among the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and Metro Parks Tacoma to uncovering the patterns and processes by which wildlife are adapting to cities. Together with his collaborators, Chris works to connect local and national communities with wildlife while simultaneously working to uncover the mechanisms that drive urban adaptation in wildlife.

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