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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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How Do Plants and Animals Fare in Our Cities?

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 12, 2014

Humans are increasingly an urban species, and a new study, the largest dataset of its kind ever compiled, looks at how our cities perform as habitats not just for us, but for plants and animals.  The study appears in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.  Here’s part of the BBC’s story on what it found:

The team analysed the data and found that cities retained about just 8% of bird species and 25% of plant species of comparable undeveloped land.

But [lead author Myla] Aronson added: “Contrary to popular belief, we show that the plants and birds of cities are not all the same across the world.

“Owing to the fact that cities around the world share similar structural characteristics – buildings, roads etc – it is thought that cities share a similar biota, no matter where they are in the world.

“Few species are shared across cities, such as pigeons and annual meadow grass, but overall, the composition of cities reflects the unique biotic heritage of their geographic location.”

She said the data revealed that, overall, cities supported close to 20% of the world’s bird species and 5% of known plant species.

“Conserving green spaces, restoring natural plant species and adding biodiversity-friendly habitats within urban landscapes could, in turn, support more bird and plant species,” Dr Aronson suggested.

Commenting on the study’s findings, Prof Philip James, of the University of Salford – who was not involved in the research – said that many cities grew in areas that were diverse and rich in natural resources, plants and animals.

“So the challenge is to use our knowledge of urban ecology to enrich the lives of the ever-increasing number of people living and working in cities,” he told BBC News.

“Seeing birds from our windows, hearing their songs and having pleasant, natural places to walk are all beneficial to our health and well-being.”

Read the whole BBC story here.


One Response to “How Do Plants and Animals Fare in Our Cities?”

  1. Richard, we spent three months random sampling trees in a large urban area in an arid region and found many more species than were naturally present in the area (unpublished). Our null hyp. was that there would be fewer species. We speculated that water diversions and preferences of the residents might explain the increase.

    I haven’t read the study you cited, but it might be that they saw wide variability across their city sample. Cities in mesic regions might have fewer tree species–they would certainly have fewer trees.


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