Human Wealth Increases Urban Plant Diversity

Family income and housing age are key predictors of plant diversity within cities, according to a new study.
June 30, 2003, 5am PDT | Chris Steins | @urbaninsight
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Variation in plant diversity has traditionally been attributed to resource availability within ecosystems. However, urbanization has resulted in plant communities created solely by humans, reflecting social, economic, and cultural influences. To explore the parameters that determine plant diversity across a large urban area, Diane Hope and colleagues surveyed the number of perennial woody species in Phoenix and the surrounding Sonoran desert. For each site, the researchers also charted data in categories such as current and historic land use, elevation, and several socioeconomic variables. In addition to traditional ecological factors, the scientists found that socioeconomic factors best explained variations in plant diversity. For example, in neighborhoods where household incomes were higher than the city's median, plant diversity was approximately twice that of less affluent areas. Also, newer housing developments had higher diversity than older ones. The scientists suggest that wealth may shape landscapes and increase limited resources, allowing a greater number of plant species to flourish.

Thanks to Adam Rogers

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Published on Tuesday, July 1, 2003 in Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences
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