Congratulations to new BC3 PhD graduate Celina Aznárez

Dr Celina Aznárez graduated with a thesis entitled “The role of urban biodiversity in green infrastructure multifunctionality and environmental justice” today at Univ Autónoma Barcelona (ICTA-UAB). 

Dr Aznárez has been one of the first researchers to carry out a La Caixa Inphinit fellowship at BC3. Dr Aznárez’s thesis has been supervised by Professor Unai Pascual (BC3) and  Asst. Professor Francesc Baró (VUB).


As urban areas expand, societal contact with nature is increasingly confined to cityscapes, highlighting the need to explore the interactions between urban biodiversity, urban green infrastructure (UGI), and human well-being. The spatial distribution, accessibility, and quality of urban ecosystems are important aspects to consider when assessing these interactions. For instance, the uneven distribution and accessibility to UGI may cause many urban dwellers to live in poor environmental conditions with direct impacts on their health. Recognising the critical role of biodiversity in supporting UGI and the provision of ecosystem services (ES) is key. This requires an examination of the UGI spatial patterns and ecological characteristics that contribute to the production of ES. This dissertation examines the contribution of urban biodiversity to the multifunctionality of green infrastructure from an environmental justice perspective. The research unfolds through three standalone empirical chapters, each building on the outcomes of the previous one and corresponding to a specific research objective, using the “European Green Capital” Vitoria-Gasteiz, a middle-sized city and the capital of the Basque Country, as a case study. Chapter II assessed the urban wildness and habitat quality of UGI as biodiversity predictors adapted to urban ecosystems. To achieve this, I adapt spatial modelling tools traditionally used in areas with minimal human influence. This adaptation challenges the traditional perspective that considers urban land uses solely sources of threats to non-human-dominated landscapes, rather than recognising their potential as habitat sources. Results from Vitoria-Gasteiz reveal varying levels of relative habitat quality and wildness, with small and fragmented green spaces failing to effectively support urban biodiversity compared with larger and less fragmented periurban green spaces. Chapter III focuses on how socioeconomic and historical factors shape urban ecosystems and regulate ES provision from a distributive environmental justice perspective. Using remote sensing and census data, I examine luxury and legacy effects on urban biodiversity, vegetation cover, and ES, considering interactive effects among sociodemographic and biophysical variables of interest. Findings suggest that urban biodiversity is primarily driven by socioeconomic factors related to social “status”(i.e. high education attainment), whereas vegetation cover and regulating ES are influenced by management legacies in interaction with population density. In Chapter IV, I analyse the spatial patterns of temperature regulation ES supply and demand mismatches, considering sociodemographic and health factors driving distributional inequalities in exposure to urban heat as an environmental hazard. The results highlight the existence of disparities in access to nature-based urban cooling and hence the level of heat vulnerability, with increased exposure observed in areas inhabited by disadvantaged communities in contrast to more affluent areas. Together, these three empirical studies provide valuable insights into the influence of socioeconomic and health factors on urban ecosystem quality and distribution, and their cascading impact on human well-being and inequitable access to ES. These findings contribute to a better understanding of urban socio-ecological systems, providing actionable insights for advancing urban agendas towards equitable urban development in both Vitoria-Gasteiz and beyond.

Thesis Committee: 

Dr. Johannes Langemeyer

Dr. Nadja Kabisch

Dr. Ignacio Palomo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

María de Maeztu Excellence Unit 2023-2027 Ref. CEX2021-001201-M, funded by MCIN/AEI /10.13039/501100011033

©2008 BC3 Basque Centre for Climate Change.