Melissa McHale

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Dr. Melissa McHale is an urban ecologist whose internationally recognized work mobilizes cutting-edge urban theory and practical science for decision-making in cities.  Her research encompasses diverse themes, including:  the social and biophysical drivers of urban ecosystem structure and function; global urbanization processes; green infrastructure and designer ecosystems; ecosystem services, disservices and tradeoffs; and linkages among landscape patterns and human health and well-being.  She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, at Colorado State University, and an Honorary Research Fellow at the Wits City Institute, at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.  She received a BS in Conservation Ecology from Rutgers University, a PhD in Ecology from Colorado State University, and served as a postdoctoral research fellow with the Central-Arizona Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research site at Arizona State University.  Before moving back to Colorado, she was an Associate Professor in the Forestry Department at North Carolina State University.  Dr. McHale is the recipient of multiple grants and awards including a National Science Foundation funded Urban Long-Term Research Area (ULTRA-ex) program and the Distinguished Ecologist Alumni Award from CSU.  As founding director of the Urban Sustainability Research Network in Colorado, she fosters collaborations among academics and practitioners to develop innovative research projects with measurable impacts.  Her transdisciplinary research program in South Africa is focused on sustainable urbanization processes, on resilient social-ecological systems, and on forging links between leading savanna scientists, conservation organizations, and local communities in the Global South. It provides students with unique opportunities to work with and learn from historically marginalized communities, experiencing the complexity of rural livelihoods and environmental injustice on the border of major protected areas.

Under the direction of Dr. McHale, the Urban Ecology Lab has made significant contributions to the field of urban ecology and sustainability. Some projects they have completed include:

– Participatory science for assessing the benefits and costs of nature in the city

– The impacts of residential landscapes and human behaviors on water and energy consumption

– Urban land cover patterns and implications for watershed management

– Urban vegetative fragmentation and its associations with physical activity and BMI

– Spatial and temporal trends in urban metabolism analyses

– Urban morphological and social-ecological drivers of land cover across cities

– Urban tree canopy cover and environmental justice

– The role of the residential urban forest in regulating throughfall during rain events

– Barriers to utilization of municipal biomass residues for bioenergy

– Influences of landscape and lifestyle on home energy use

– An evaluation of adaptive capacity to extreme weather events in cities

– How environmental amenities influence demographics

– Predicting native plant landscaping preferences in cities

– Alternative biomass utilization and transforming urban wood waste into a valuable resource

Dr. McHale has also developed an internationally renowned research and education program in South Africa, where she provides students with unique opportunities to work with historically marginalized and underprivileged communities on their greatest urban conservation and sustainability challenges.  Undergraduate students from this program have started a non-profit in the US called Pivotal Places.  Our mission is to bridge the gap between research and development, creating resilient communities and healthy ecosystems.

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