NCEAS researchers find cities support more native biodiversity than previously thought

Peregrine falcon.  Photo Credit: Erickson

A NCEAS Working Group examined data from 147 cities worldwide and found surprisingly high numbers of plant and animal species that persist and even flourish in urban environments — to the tune of hundreds of bird species and thousands of plant species in a single city. Contrary to conventional wisdom that cities are a wasteland for biodiversity, the study found the overall mix of species in cities reflects the unique biotic heritage of their geographic location. The findings of the study were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biological Sciences.

Unlike previous urban biodiversity research, this study looks beyond the local impacts of urbanization and considers overall impacts on global biodiversity. The research team created the largest global dataset to date of two diverse taxa in cities: birds (54 cities) and plants (110 cities). Overall, the findings show that cities supported far fewer species (about 92 percent less for birds and 75 percent less for native plants) than expected for similar areas of undeveloped land. The study also shows that many plant and animal species can flourish in cities, even as others decline or disappear entirely, thus highlighting the value of green space as important refuges for native species and migrating wildlife.

“While urbanization has caused cities to lose large numbers of plants and animals, the good news is that cities still retain endemic native species, which opens the door for new policies on regional and global biodiversity conservation,” said lead author and NCEAS working group member Myla F. J. Aronson, a research scientist in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

“Given that the majority of people now live in cities, this group's synthesis of data on urban plant and animal diversity should be of broad interest to ecologists as well as landscape planners,” said Frank Davis, director of NCEAS.

A global analysis of the impacts of urbanization on bird and plant diversity reveals key anthropogenic drivers
Myla F. J. Aronson, Frank A. La Sorte, Charles H. Nilon, Madhusudan Katti, Mark A. Goddard, Christopher A. Lepczyk, Paige S. Warren, Nicholas S. G. Williams, Sarel Cilliers, Bruce Clarkson, Cynnamon Dobbs, Rebecca Dolan, Marcus Hedblom, Stefan Klotz, Jip Louwe Kooijmans, Ingolf Ku ̈hn, Ian MacGregor-Fors, Mark McDonnell, Ulla Mo ̈rtberg, Petr Pyˇsek, Stefan Siebert, Jessica Sushinsky, Peter Werner, and Marten Winter
Proceedings B of the Royal Society, February, 2014

UCSB News Release

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More information about this NCEAS Working Group's research, participants, and publications.


This work was supported by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, the National Science Foundation (Grant #EF-0553768), and the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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Posted on February 10, 2014