Urban biodiversity: patterns and mechanisms


Address for correspondence: Stanley H. Faeth, Department of Biology, University of North Carolina Greensboro, Greensboro, NC 27402-6170. shfaeth@uncg.edu


The patterns of biodiversity changes in cities are now fairly well established, although diversity changes in temperate cities are much better studied than cities in other climate zones. Generally, plant species richness often increases in cities due to importation of exotic species, whereas animal species richness declines. Abundances of some groups, especially birds and arthropods, often increase in urban areas despite declines in species richness. Although several models have been proposed for biodiversity change, the processes underlying the patterns of biodiversity in cities are poorly understood. We argue that humans directly control plants but relatively few animals and microbes—the remaining biological community is determined by this plant “template” upon which natural ecological and evolutionary processes act. As a result, conserving or reconstructing natural habitats defined by vegetation within urban areas is no guarantee that other components of the biological community will follow suit. Understanding the human-controlled and natural processes that alter biodiversity is essential for conserving urban biodiversity. This urban biodiversity will comprise a growing fraction of the world's repository of biodiversity in the future.