Researchers are trying to better understand how abandoned plots in citied contribute to conservation. Although vacant lots collectively cover a significant amount of land, they remain less studied than landscapes such as national and urban parks. “I think they have the potential to be ecologically important,” says Emily Minor, an ecologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The sites also offer opportunities to test conservation strategies on a large scale. “These urban vacant lots create a huge outdoor laboratory to do replicate field experiments,” says Mary Gardiner, an entomologist at The Ohio State University in Columbus.
As the amount of vacant land in shrinking cities increases, so too does the need to figure out man- agement solutions for these sites. “What you’re see- ing is a collision of serious academic and scientific interest with a real societal problem,” says Christopher Swan, an ecologist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.