UCL Division of Biosciences


Mikaël J. A. Maes

Mika Maes

PhD Title 

Connecting science with policy for sustainable development of urban ecosystems


Current Research

 More than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas and almost 2.5 billion people could be added to that by 2050. Life in urban areas is associated with adverse human health effects and there is increasing interest in the role of urban ecosystems delivering benefits to cognitive development and mental health. However, the mechanism is unknown why we receive these health benefits from urban ecosystems, and how health data and statistics can inform public policy decision-making. Here, I empirically demonstrate the relationship between habitat quality and urban health in children and how it can support public policy decision-making through a multidisciplinary approach bringing together environmental science and economics, epidemiology and public policy.

I set the scene by using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to show that sustainable development of urban ecosystems cannot be addressed without addressing other non-environmental policy objectives and that cross-disciplinary work is needed to resolve knowledge gaps. Then, using a health dataset of approximately 7,000 children in London, UK, I show that woodland is associated with children’s mental health and cognitive development. Using the scientific knowledge developed by analysing children’s cognitive development and mental health, I then develop natural capital accounts for London to better understand the value of London’s urban ecosystems to cognitive development and mental health. Finally, I assess its relevance to the broader policy community by showing that natural capital accounts have a cross-cutting relevance across UK public sector decision-making. As anthropogenic pressures on urban ecosystems increase globally, the need to sustainably develop urban ecosystems will only increase, especially considering its importance for human health and wellbeing.




Selected publications

Maes, M. J. A., Jones, K. E., Toledano, M. B., and Milligan, B. (2020). Accounting for natural capital has cross-cutting relevance for UK public sector decision-making. Ecosystem Services, 44, 101127.

Maes, M. J. A., Jones, K. E., Toledano, M. B. and Milligan, B. (2019). Mapping synergies and trade-offs between urban ecosystems and the sustainable development goals. Environmental Science & Policy, 93, 181-188.

Maes, M. J. A. (2016). ‘An exploration of the relationships between landscape metrics and tree diversity in urban forests’, in Francis, et al. (ed.) Urban Landscape Ecology. Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge, pp. 75-90.


Brief CV

YearsPositionInstitution name and location (country)
2016-PresentPhD ResearcherUniversity College London
2015-2016Trainee (4-month secondmentEuropean Commission, Brussels, Belgium
2014-2016Consultant ERM (Environmental Resources Management), Brussels (Belgium) and Frankfurt am Main (Germany)
2013-2014MSc (dist.) in Environmental Monitoring, Modelling and ManagementKing’s College London, UK
2011-2013MSc (dist.) in Biology (Ecology and Functional Biology)Ghent University, Belgium
2008-2011BSc (First Class Honours) in BiologyGhent University, Belgium