Application of crime theory in urban ecology, evolution and planning: factors influencing the disappearance of field equipment

This is a Preprint and has not been peer reviewed. This is version 2 of this Preprint.

Add a Comment

You must log in to post a comment.


There are no comments or no comments have been made public for this article.


Download Preprint


Ignacy Stadnicki , Marta Szulkin, Michela Corsini


1. Research in urban ecology and evolution relies on the use of deployable scientific equipment. If left unattended in the field, it may be prone to vandalism and theft, especially in the urban space. We empirically applied crime theory, specifically the Routine Activity Theory (RAT), to predict disappearance rates of scientific equipment in an on-going urban ecology research project.

2. First, we tested a routinely applied method of equipment protection - labelling - and tested whether equipment disappearance varied with label information content and message tone. Second, we tested whether equipment attributes (price, mass, volume, colour and type of installation) and environmental variables (human presence, tree cover, distance to paths and distance to roads) covaried with the disappearance of two types of field equipment, and whether patterns of disappearance changed over time spent in the urban space (novelty effect).

3. The disappearance of 474 nestboxes and 141 frassboxes was followed over four years and two field seasons, respectively. By using a crime theory framework, we successfully predicted that nestboxes were less likely to disappear than frassboxes. In contrast to an earlier study, we did not find any association between label type and disappearance rates. Instead, we identified environmental variables that covaried with equipment disappearance: for both types of scientific equipment, there was an interaction between human presence and tree cover. Thus, in highly-frequented places, people were more likely to remove scientific equipment if they were less seen (e.g. in areas with high tree cover). Moreover, we detected an interaction between distance to roads and paths for frassboxes but not nestboxes, revealing that equipment properties may interact with environmental setting. Importantly, frassbox disappearance decreased over time in both study seasons, confirming the important role of novelty for scientific equipment disappearance rates.

4. We encourage other researchers, site-managers and stakeholders working in cities and other frequently visited areas to apply the RAT framework, as it is an easily applicable and inexpensive way to gain insight into patterns of equipment disappearance in the public space, thereby strengthening the potential for informed project planning and as a result, safer, and more effective studies.



Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Other Social and Behavioral Sciences, Research Methods in Life Sciences, Urban Studies and Planning


crime prevention, crime theory, equipment protection, field equipment, labelling, socio-eco-evo, urban ecology, urbanisation


Published: 2023-07-15 11:00

Last Updated: 2023-10-03 13:53

Older Versions

CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

Additional Metadata


Conflict of interest statement:

Data and Code Availability Statement:
Open data not yet available.