A Review on Coastal Urban Ecology: Research Gaps, Challenges, and Needs

Giorgia Graells*, Nao Nakamura, Juan L. Celis-Diez, Nelson A. Lagos, Pablo A. Marquet, Patricio Pliscoff, Stefan Gelcich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Coastal urban areas have dramatically increased during the last decades, however, coastal research integrating the impacts and challenges facing urban areas is still scarce. To examine research advances and critical gaps, a review of the literature on coastal urban ecology was performed. Articles were selected following a structured decision tree and data were classified into study disciplines, approaches, type of analysis, main research objectives, and Pickett's paradigms in-, of-, and for- the city, among other categories. From a total of 237 publications, results show that most of the research comes from the USA, China, and Australia, and has been carried out mostly in large cities with populations between 1 and 5 million people. Focus has been placed on ecological studies, spatial and quantitative analysis and pollution in coastal urban areas. Most of the studies on urban ecology in coastal zones were developed at nearshore terrestrial environments and only 22.36% included the marine ecosystem. Urban ecological studies in coastal areas have mainly been carried out under the paradigm in the city with a focus on the disciplines of biology and ecology. Results suggest a series of disciplinary, geographical, and approach biases which can present a number of risks. Foremost among these is a lack of knowledge on social dimensions which can impact on sustainability. A key risk relates to the fact that lessons and recommendations of research are mainly from developed countries and large cities which might have different institutional, planning and cultural settings compared to developing and mid-income countries. Scientific research on coastal urban areas needs to diversify toward an ecology of and for the cities, in order to support coastal development in a diversity of countries and settings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number617897
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
StatePublished - 26 May 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2021 Graells, Nakamura, Celis-Diez, Lagos, Marquet, Pliscoff and Gelcich.


  • coastal cities
  • coastal urban ecology
  • coastal urbanization
  • marine urbanization
  • urban ecology paradigms


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