Impacts of urban ecosystem services on human health and water quantity and quality in Northwestern Indiana communities: An unexplored opportunity to study service accessibility

A research project funded by the Indiana Water Resources Research Center through the U.S. Geological Survey’s 104B annual base grants (section 104 of the Water Resources Research Act of 1984, as amended).

Start Date: 2019-06-01   End Date: 2020-05-31
Total Federal Funds: $15,000   Total Non-Federal Funds: $33,200


Ecosystem services include benefits from the goods and services that humans obtain from nature. Accessibility to ecosystem services is not well understood due to the complex factors influencing dynamic linkages between service provisioning and consumption. To more robustly characterize accessibility, we studied the influence of terrestrial ecosystem processes on hydrologic systems (e.g. flooding prevention and street stormwater purification), along services provided by urban vegetation. Vegetation losses can impair the supply of ecosystem services, impacting the health and wellbeing of local communities. Urban communities like those in Northwestern Indiana, part of the third largest metropolitan region in the country (the Chicago metropolitan region), are especially vulnerable to losses of urban ecosystem services. Assessment of service delivery in these communities is incomplete, particularly the social dimensions of accessibility. We addressed this need using a mixed methods approach to assessing accessibility: combining findings from an ongoing spatial study looking at service distribution in the Chicago region (including three Northwestern Indiana counties) with survey results on community feedbacks and ecosystem service accessibility.

Figure 1. Northwestern Indiana (NWI) and the Illinois portion of the Chicago metropolitan area.

Research Objectives

  1. Leverage a prior study examining the spatial distribution and accessibility of multiple ecosystem services throughout the Chicago metro region. The prior study provided context on the distribution of various ecosystem services, including hydrologic, across three Northwestern Indiana counties (Lake, Porter, and LaPorte) and (2) produced a spatial assessment of accessibility that accounted for local demographics and spatial factors that enable accessibility.
  2. Learn about perceptions, attitudes and awareness of ecosystem services and identify additional factors that might influence provisioning-consumption dynamics within these communities. We administered a online survey to ecosystem service beneficiaries of urban areas (by sharing the survey link through community organizations’ social media) and by targeted sampling (using a third-party data collection platform).

Researcher Profile

Brady Hardiman

Principal Investigator Dr. Brady Hardiman is an Assistant Professor of Urban Ecology in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University.

Dr. Mayra Rodriguez Gonzalez

Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Mayra Rodriguez Gonzalez recently completed her Ph.D. in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University and will continue this research as a post doctoral researcher.


Major Conclusions & Significance

Urban greenscapes provide essential ecosystem services that regulate water quality. Our social survey of Northwestern Indiana residents revealed:

  • Low-income residents are less likely to have vegetation on their property and their related expenses are their major concern when considering nearby areas with greenspace.
  • As such, income predicts resident valuation, preferences, and delivery for most service types. This was further supported by our spatial mapping of ecosystem services leveraged from our previous study.
  • Involvement of survey respondents in environmental advocacy or an environmental profession (i.e., eco-involvement) was a good indicator for service valuation, especially for services relating to hydrological regulation.
  • Eco-involved individuals frequented areas with rain gardens the most, potentially due to their environmental-centered purpose.
  • The closer to Chicago, the greater concern residents have in relation to stormwater retention and flooding. Meanwhile, the further from it (like in the three Indiana counties of the metropolitan region, which are closer to the outskirts of the extent), the greater concern residents have in relation to water purification and clean water provisioning.

What Does This Mean For Indiana?

The insights gained from this project support past research on service distribution disparities and nature valuation related to pro-environmental behavior. Our results also support previous findings that high-income individuals have more private greenspace. Our results also emphasize that lack of access to private greenspaces by low-income residents could translate into relying on lower water quality and poorly maintained public greenspaces, sacrificing access to preventative benefits such as flooding prevention and water purification. Differences in concerns relating to the different types of hydrologic services are likely to relate to the urban-rural context, as urban residents are more likely to face issues relating to stormwater runoff while rural residents and many Indiana communities may be relying on groundwater sources for irrigation.

Training The Next Generation

One of the missions of the Indiana Water Resources Research Center, and all Water Centers, is to train the next generation of water scientists. This project successfully funded research for one Ph.D. student within Dr. Hardiman’s lab and trained five undergraduate research students.

Contact Laura Esman, Managing Director, to request a printed copy of this factsheet.



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