Horticultural availability and homeowner preferences drive plant diversity and composition in urban yards

Jeannine Cavender-Bares, Josep Padullés Cubino, William D. Pearse, Sarah E. Hobbie, A. J. Lange, Sonja Knapp, Kristen C. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Understanding the factors that influence biodiversity in urban areas is important for informing management efforts aimed at enhancing the ecosystem services in urban settings and curbing the spread of invasive introduced species. We determined the ecological and socioeconomic factors that influence patterns of plant richness, phylogenetic diversity, and composition in 133 private household yards in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Metropolitan area, Minnesota, USA. We compared the composition of spontaneously occurring plant species and those planted by homeowners with composition in natural areas (at the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve) and in the horticulture pool of species available from commercial growers. Yard area and fertilizer frequency influenced species richness of the spontaneous species but expressed homeowner values did not. In contrast, the criteria that homeowners articulated as important in their management decisions, including aesthetics, wildlife, neatness and food provision, significantly predicted cultivated species richness. Strikingly, the composition of plant species that people cultivated in their yards resembled the taxonomic and phylogenetic composition of species available commercially. In contrast, the taxonomic and phylogenetic composition of spontaneous species showed high similarity to natural areas. The large fraction of introduced species that homeowners planted was a likely consequence of what was available for them to purchase. The study links the composition and diversity of yard flora to their natural and anthropogenic sources and sheds light on the human factors and values that influence the plant diversity in residential areas of a major urban system. Enhanced understanding of the influences of the sources of plants, both native and introduced, that enter urban systems and the human factors and values that influence their diversity is critical to identifying the levers to manage urban biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02082
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to thank the NSF Macrosystems Program (EF-1638519) and Cedar Creek NSF Long-Term Ecological Research program (DEB-1831944) for funding, as well as participants of the NSF Macrosystems project for useful conversations. K. C. Nelson's research is supported in part by NIFA McIntire-Stennis 1000343 MIN-42-051. We thank Jos? Eduardo Meireles, Alison Slaats, and Belinda Befort for technical support and members of the Cavender-Bares, Hobbie, and Nelson labs for important feedback.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the Ecological Society of America


  • attitudes
  • horticulture
  • introduced species
  • preferences
  • urban biodiversity
  • urban domestic yards

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

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