A comparison of the urban flora of different phytoclimatic regions in Italy

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Abstract

This study is a comparison of the spontaneous vascular flora of five Italian cities: Milan, Ancona, Rome, Cagliari and Palermo. The aims of the study are to test the hypothesis that urbanization results in uniformity of urban floras, and to evaluate the role of alien species in the flora of settlements located in different phytoclimatic regions. To obtain comparable data, ten plots of 1 ha, each representing typical urban habitats, were analysed in each city. The results indicate a low floristic similarity between the cities, while the strongest similarity appears within each city and between each city and the seminatural vegetation of the surrounding region. In the Mediterranean settlements, even the most urbanized plots reflect the characters of the surrounding landscape and are rich in native species, while aliens are relatively few. These results differ from the reported uniformity and the high proportion of aliens which generally characterize urban floras elsewhere. To explain this trend the importance of apophytes (indigenous plants expanding into man-made habitats) is highlighted; several Mediterranean species adapted to disturbance (i.e. grazing, trampling, and human activities) are pre-adapted to the urban environment. In addition, consideration is given to the minor role played by the ‘urban heat island’ in the Mediterranean basin, and to the structure and history of several Italian settlements, where ancient walls, ruins and archaeological sites in the periphery as well as in the historical centres act as conservative habitats and provide connection with seed-sources on the outskirts.

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