Urban plant diversity in Los Angeles, California: Species and functional type turnover in cultivated landscapes

Meghan Avolio, Diane E. Pataki, G. Darrel Jenerette, Stephanie Pincetl, Lorraine Weller Clarke, Jeannine Cavender-Bares, Thomas W. Gillespie, Sarah E. Hobbie, Kelli L. Larson, Heather R. McCarthy, Tara L.E. Trammell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


People plant, remove, and manage urban vegetation in cities for varying purposes and to varying extents. The direct manipulation of plants affects the benefits people receive from plants. In synthesizing several studies of urban biodiversity in Los Angeles, we find that cultivated plants differ from those in remnant natural areas. This highlights the importance of studying cultivated plants in cities, which is crucial for the design and planning of sustainable cities. Residents have created a new urban biome in Los Angeles, and this has consequences for associated organisms, ultimately resulting in a responsibility for society to determine what type of biome we wish to create. Summary Urbanization is a large driver of biodiversity globally. Within cities, urban trees, gardens, and residential yards contribute extensively to plant biodiversity, although the consequences and mechanisms of plant cultivation for biodiversity are uncertain. We used Los Angeles, California, USA as a case study for investigating plant diversity in cultivated areas. We synthesized datasets quantifying the diversity of urban trees, residential yards, and community gardens in Los Angeles, the availability of plants from nurseries, and residents’ attitudes about plant attributes. Cultivated plant diversity was drastically different from remnant natural areas; compared to remnant natural areas, cultivated areas contained more exotic species, more than double the number of plant species, and turnover in plant functional trait distributions. In cultivated areas, most plants were intentionally planted and dominated by exotic species planted for ornamental purposes. Most tree species sampled in Los Angeles were available for sale in local nurseries. Residents’ preferences for specific plant traits were correlated with the trait composition of the plant community, suggesting cultivated plant communities at least partially reflect resident preferences. Our findings demonstrate the importance of cultivated species in a diverse megacity that are driven in part through commercial distribution. The cultivation of plants in Los Angeles greatly increases regional plant biodiversity through changes in species composition and functional trait distributions. The pervasive presence of cultivated species likely has many consequences for residents and the ecosystem services they receive compared with unmanaged or remnant urban areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)144-156
Number of pages13
JournalPlants People Planet
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation grants DEB 0919381, 096169, CBET 1444758, and EF 1065831. MLA was also supported by the National‐Socio Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) NSF DBI 1052875.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Authors, Plants, People, Planet © New Phytologist Trust


  • city plant species richness
  • community gardens
  • remnant natural areas
  • residential yards
  • socio-environmental synthesis
  • urban trees


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