Heather Sander

Heather Sander
Assistant Professor
PhD, Conservation Biology, University of Minnesota
307 Jessup Hall
Office Hours: 
M 10:30am - 12:30pm; T 11:30am - 12:30pm
Research Interests: 
urban ecology, ecosystem services, urban wildlife ecology and conservation

** Funded Doctoral and Master’s student positions available for fall, 2019.  Students are particularly sought to work on an urban wildlife ecology project that aims to identify relationships between urban forest structure and composition and the distribution of urban mesopredators and song birds.  Previous field ecology, GIS, and statistical training and experience is desirable.  Interested students should contact me via email (heather-a-sander@uiowa.edu) prior to applying. That email should include a curriculum vitae, GPA, GRE scores, and a brief statement of experience and research and career interests.**  

My research centers on the combined use of field work, GIS, and geospatial analysis to explore questions related to urban ecosystems.  To this end, my research interests are highly interdisciplinary, integrating the natural and social sciences to understand human-environment interactions with a particular focus on the utilization of spatial models and analysis techniques to better understand the relationships between human well-being, urban ecosystem structure and function, and land use.  Through this research I seek to identify fundamental aspects of urban social-ecological systems that can effectively be applied to produce cities that support both environmental functioning and human quality-of-life.

My present research includes projects in three main areas:

  1. Urban biodiversity:  In today’s increasingly human-dominated world, conservation must occur in anthropogenic landscapes, including urban landscapes.Given that both urban wildlife ecology and the study of human-wildlife interaction in urban systems are in their infancy, we lack the basic understanding required to successfully implement urban conservation.  My research in this area seeks to identify how key biophysical and human elements of urban social-ecological systems and surrounding landscapes influence urban biodiversity, focusing on bird, mammal, and vegetation communities in small cities in the US Corn Belt, an area where little urban ecological research has been conducted. This work is part in the Urban Wildlife Information Network (UWIN), a network of researchers using common sampling methods and protocols to monitor vertebrate wildlife in cities across North America using trail cameras to derive global patterns and first principles of urban wildlife ecology,. 
  2. The benefits of urban green and blue: Urban water bodies (blue space) and vegetated open spaces (green space) are key sites for building urban sustainability, promoting social, economic, and environmental objectives and influencing human well-being. Building sustainable cities requires an understanding of how urbanities benefit from and value these amenities.  My research in this area seeks to answer key questions related to the manner in which humans benefit from urban green and blue space and to variation in these relationships with environment, geographic, and social context using geospatial analysis and modeling.
  3. Urban forests benefits:  The urban forest provides a nexus through which urban residents influence and are influenced by their environment.  My research in this area seeks to identify the factors that influence urban forests development, how urban forest structure and composition influence ecosystem services and wildlife habitat, and how the benefits humans receive from urban forests influence household-level urban forest management.  In this research I focus on characterizing urban forests using both field surveys and remotely-sensed imagery, the use of spatial models for quanitify the benefits these forests provide (e.g., carbon storage and sequestration, habitat, aesthetics, economic), and identifying how household-level management might alter urban forest structure.



  • GEOG:1070 Contemporary Environmental Issues
  • GEOG:2950 Environmental Conservation
  • BIOL/GEOG:2374: Biogeography
  • GEOG:3350 Urban Ecology
  • GEOG:3310 Landscape Ecology
  • GEOG:3340 Ecosystem Services: Human Dependence on Natural Systems
  • GEOG:4520 GIS for Environmental Studies: Applications
Graduate Advisees: 


Brianna Zumhof (M.A., in progress)

Brandon MacDougall (Ph.D., in progress)

Cody Hodson (Ph.D., in progress)

Chang Zhao (Ph.D., 2018)

Jason McCurdy (M.A., 2016)

Amirhossein Tayyebi (M.A., 2015)

Jamie Sanchagrin (M.A., 2015)

Grants & Funding: 
  • University of Iowa, Outreach & Engagement. "Understanding perceptions of urban biodiversity and its benefits in eastern Iowa cities". Award amount: ($9,495.00). Investigator/s Heather A Sander (Principal Investigator), Brianna Zumhof (Co-Investigator).
  • National Science Foundation, WSC-Category 1.  2014-2019.  Senior Personnel for "Decision Processes, Climate Change, and Water Resources in the Agricultural Midwest."  $599,383.  "Collaborative Research" with Adam Ward (PI), Co-PIs Kajsa Dalrymple and Scott Spak, and Senior Personnel Sara Mitchell, Eric Tate, Ananya Sen Gupta, and Aaron Strong.
  • Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) Seed Grant. 2015-2016.  Principal Investigator for "Seeing the urban forest for the trees: An assessment of the relationships between urban forests and biodiversity, carbon storage, and carbon sequestration".  $28,295. 
  • Iowa Audubon Society. "Birds in the city: Indentifying patterns in urban bird distributions in agricultural cities". 2016. $750. 
  • University of Iowa,  Environmental Health Sciences Research Center Seed Grant. 2012-2014. Co-Investigator for "Evaluating the impact of environmental contaminants on neurocognitive functioning in schoolchildren: A novel geographical analysis of NHANES and SABINS data" with Margaret Carrel. $9,274.
Selected Publications: 

Sander, H. A., MacDougall, B. M.  Indicator communities for urban songbird conservation.  Urban Ecosystems.   In revision.

Zhao, C., Sander, H. A., Hendrix, S. B. Wild bees and urban agriculture: Assessing pollination supply and demand across urban landscapes.  Urban Ecosystems.  In review following revision.

Magle, S. B., Fidino, M., Lehrer, E. W., et al. Advancing urban wildlife research through a multi-city collaboration.  Frontiers in Ecology and Environment.    Accepted -- in press.

Zhao, C., Sander, H. A. 2018.  Assessing accuracy in ecosystem service maps: An example using carbon storage. Landscape and Urban Planning, 175, 11-22.

Sander, H. A., D. Ghosh, C.B. Hodson. 2017. Are greener neighborhoods healthier? Varying associations between body mass index and urban greenspace. Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, 26:1-10.

Hodson, C.B., H.A. Sander. 2017.  Green urban landscapes and school-level reading performance. Landscape and Urban Planning, 160:16-27.

Wilson, C.G., K.M.,Wacha, A.N. Papanicolaou, H.A. Sander, V.B. Freudenberg, B.K.B Abban, C.  Zhao. 2016.  Dynamic assessment of current management in an intensively managed agroecosystem. Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education. 158:148-171.

Sander, H. A. 2016. Assessing impacts on urban greenspace, waterways, and vegetation in urban planning. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 59(3): 461-479.

H.E. Golden, H.A. Sander, C. Zhao, C.R. Lane, K. Price, E. D’Amico, and J.R. Christensen. 2016. Relative effects of geographically isolated wetlands on streamflow: a watershed-scale analysis. Ecohydrology 9(1):21-38.

Zhao, C., Sander, H. A. 2015. Quantifying and Mapping the Supply of and Demand for Carbon Storage and Sequestration Service from Urban Trees. PLOS-ONE 10(8).

Sander, H.A. and C. Zhao.  2015.  Urban green and blue: Who values what and where?  Land Use Policy 42:194-209.

Sander, H.A. and R.G. Haight. 2012. Estimating the economic value of cultural ecosystem services in an urban area using hedonic pricing. Journal of Environmental Management  113:194-205.

Nelson, E.J., H.A. Sander, P. Hawthorne, M. Conte, D. Ennaanay, S.M. Manson, and S. Polasky. 2010. Projecting global land-use change and its effect on ecosystem service production and biodiversity with simple models. PLoS ONE 5(12):1-22.

Sander, H.A., D. Ghosh, D. Van Riper, and S.M. Manson. 2010. How do you measure distance in spatial models? An example using open space valuation. Environment and Planning B. 37:874-894.

Sander, H.A. 2010. Viewshed analysis. In Encyclopedia of Geography, B. Warf, ed. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.

Sander, H.A., S. Polasky, and R.G. Haight. 2010. The value of urban tree cover, a hedonic estimation of home sale prices in Ramsey and Dakota County, Minnesota, USA. Ecological Economics. 69:1646-1656.

Kayzar, B., S.M. Manson, H.A. Sander, and N. Young. 2009. Template for a toolkit: community growth options for peripheral communities. The CURA Reporter 39(3-4):25-35.

Sander, H.A. and S. Polasky. 2009. The value of views and open space: estimates from a hedonic pricing model for Ramsey County, Minnesota, USA. Land Use Policy 26:837-845.

Manson, S.M.; H.A. Sander; D. Ghosh; J.M. Oakes; M.W. Orfield, Jr.; W.J. Craig; T.F. Luce Jr.; E. Myott, Jr.; and S. Sun. 2009. Parcel data for research and policy. Geography Compass 3(2):698-726.

Sander, H.A. and S.M. Manson. 2007. Heights and locations of artificial structures in viewshed calculation: how close is close enough? Landscape and Urban Planning 82(4):257-270. 


Selected, recent lab group presentations

Magle, S. B., Fidino, M., Lehrer, E. W., Gallo, T., Mulligan, M. P., Ríos, M. J., Ahlers, A. A., Angstmann, J., Belaire, A., Dugelby, B., Gramza, A., Hartley, L., MacDougall, B., Ryan, T., Salsbury, C., Sander, H. A., Schell, C., Simon, K., Drake, D. 2018. Advancing urban carnivore research through a multi-city collaboration. 25th Annual Conference of the Wildlife Society, Cleveland, Ohio.

MacDougall, B. M., Sander, H. A. 2018. Factors influencing presence and distribution of mesopredator species in a small agricultural city. North American Congress for Conservation Biology, Toronto, Canada.

Sander, H. A., MacDougall, B. M.  2018. Patterns in nesting guild communities and implications for conservation in agricultural cities. North American Congress for Conservation Biology, Toronto, Canada

Sander, H. A., MacDougall, B. M.  2018. US Regional Association of the International Association for Landscape Ecology Annual Meeting, Birds in Corn Belt Cities: Patterns in nesting guild communities in Eastern Iowa urban landscapes, Chicago, Illinois.

Zhao, C., Koylu, C., Sander, H. A. 2018. Using deep learning and kernel density estimation for detecting spatio-temporal footprints of birdwatchers on Flickr. American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Hodson, C. B., Sander, H. A. 2018. Associations between reading and mathematics proficiency rates, graduation rates, and vegetation and water in high school attendance areas. American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Sander, H. A., Hodson, C. B. 2017.  Assessing overlap in the habitat preferences of urban birds and humans to support land management for urban sustainability. Resilience 2017, Resilience Alliance, Stockholm Resilience Center, Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Sweden.

Zhao, C., Koylu, C., Sander, H. A. 2017. Watching the birdwatchers on Flickr: An adaptive kernel smoothing approach for visualizing spatiotemporal patterns of a cultural ecosystem service. 2nd International Symposium on Spatiotemporal Computing (ISSC), Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Zhao, C. and H.A. Sander.  2017. Wild pollinators and urban agriculture: Assessing pollination supply and demand across urban landscapes. American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting, Boston, MA.

Sander, H.A., C.B. Hodson., and C. Zhao. 2017. A framework for assessing urban social and environmental sustainability. American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting, Boston, MA.

Sander, H.A., C.B. Hodson, and J. McCurdy. 2016.  Can we manage cities for humans and other species? comparing the habitat preferences of urban humans and birds? 5th International Ecosummit. Montepellier, France.

Sander, H.A. and J.McCurdy. 2016. Assessing relationships between bird species and urban intensity, forests, and greenspace in agricultural cities. North American Congress for Conservation Biology, Madison, Wisconsin.

Hodson, C.B. and H.A. Sander.  2016. Urban Landscapes and Educational Outcomes: The Connection Between School-Level Reading Performance and Nature in Built Environments. 63rd Annual North American Meetings of the Regional Science Association International, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Zhao, C. and H.A. Sander.  2016.  Uncertainties in ecosystem service mapping: a comparison of carbon storage maps. Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA.

Tayyebi, A. and H.A. Sander.  2015.  Developing risk maps to assess uncertainty in land-change models: Implications for uncertainty propagation from suitability map to simulated map.  Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL.

Hodson, C.B. and H.A. Sander.  2015. Green urban environments and academic performance. Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL.

Zhao, C. and H.A. Sander.  2015.  Quantifying and mapping the supply and demand of carbon storage and sequestration services by urban trees. Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL.

Sander, H.A., J.L. Sanchagrin, and C. Zhao.  2014.  Who values what and where?  Variation in the value of urban vegetation and greenspace.  Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Tampa, FL.

Sanchagrin, J.L. and H.A. Sander.  2014.  Planning for sustainable, resilient cities: Identifying the benefits of urban greenspace and vegetation using a homeowner survey.  Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Tampa, FL.

Zhao, C., and H.A. Sander.  2014.  Quantifying and mapping supply and demand of carbon storage service in urban areas, Dakota County, MN.  Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Tampa, FL.

Sander, H.A., C. Zhao.  2013.  Variation in cultural ecosystem service values in an urban environment.  Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, CA.

Golden, H.E., D.M. Amataya, K.W. Bandilla, J.R. Christensen, E.D’Amico, C.D. Knightes, C.R. Lane, K. Price, H. Taanan-Kipperwas, H.A. Sander, H. Ssegane.  2013.  Hydrologic connectivity of geographically isolated wetlands at the watershed scale: simulation approaches and future directions.  Society of Wetland Scientists Annual Meeting, Duluth, MN.