ILWS - Charles Sturt University
ILWS - Charles Sturt University

Compact cities or sprawling suburbs? Optimal design of growing cities to conserve biodiversity, (2017-2019)


Australian Academy of Science-WH Gladstones Population & Environment Fund, $24,000


Dr Dale Nimmo, Karen Retra, Dimitry Bambrick

Research theme(s)

Biodiversity Conservation and Rural and Regional Communities


Albury.Pic N. ScottUrban areas house half of the world's population and it is expected that by the year 2050 they will house an additional 2.5 billion people. The major driver of biodiversity loss globally is urbanisation as it results in the loss of native vegetation, altered nutrient cycles and changes to the climate. A key question therefore is How can we ensure that the growth of urban populations has minimal impact on biodiversity? Is it by 'land sharing' i.e. spreading the human population thinly via sprawling but low density 'leafy' suburbs?  Is it be dedicating some land to high density housing, while 'sparing' other parts for nature conservation? Or is it by an intermediate approach which blends elements of both i.e. a mix of low, medium and high density housing together with nature reserves?

The research project aims to uncover the optimal approach to conserve biodiversity in Australia's growing cities. It is composed of five components:

  • A large scale ecological field study (being conducted in the urban areas of Albury, NSW with studies of birds and pollinators)
  • Ecological modelling using data derived from the field study
  • Calculation of biodiversity indices based on ecological modelling
  • Optimisation of the biodiversity indices under current and future scenarios of urban growth
  • Recommendations of how to grow Australia's urban population while minimising biodiversity loss


Geschke, A., James, S., Bennett, A. F., & Nimmo, D. G. (2018). Compact cities or sprawling suburbs? Optimising the distribution of people in cities to maximise species diversity. Journal of Applied Ecology55(5), 2320-2331.


The findings from this project are expected to better inform town planners and land managers on how to distribute people in growing urban landscapes while conserving biodiversity.


Dr Dale Nimmo Email

Albury-Wodonga Campus

October 2017