Yard stories: Examining residents' conceptions of their yards as part of the urban ecosystem in Minnesota

Maria E. Dahmus, Kristen C. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


The residential yard is an integral part of the urban ecosystem. Individual preferences and social expectations influence homeowners' yard care choices, which in turn affect urban ecology. However, little is known about residents' conceptions of their yards as part of the urban ecosystem. We asked how homeowners conceive of their yard as part of the urban ecosystem by examining urban ecosystem concepts embedded within homeowners' descriptions and stories of their yards. Our study sites included an urban and suburban area in the Saint Paul-Minneapolis metropolitan area of Minnesota, USA. We found that people's understandings of their yards as urban ecosystems are complex but have prominent gaps. Salient concepts included biotic and abiotic interactions within the yard, linkages of human inputs and weeds across yards and watersheds, and yards as social space. Stories described managing dynamic ecological processes within yards to maintain a steady state and limiting linkages of human inputs beyond the yard. Prominent gaps included ecological cycles, biodiversity, and ecosystem services within yards and ecological linkages across yards. In general, people conceived of their yards in terms of inputs rather than cycles and in terms of creating barriers between their yards and surrounding areas rather than fostering ecological interconnections across them. We provide recommendations for resident outreach programs based on our findings. Finally, our study presents a challenge to urban ecosystem research to unravel where there are gaps in understandings of urban ecosystems versus where there is resistance to incorporating certain ecological interactions within the residential yard.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-194
Number of pages22
JournalUrban Ecosystems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments This research was supported by the National Science Foundation Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Program (BCS-0908998). We thank the survey respondents and discussion participants who participated in this study. We also thank GIS specialist A. Slaats for sample selection and creation of maps of the study sites. Special thanks to A. Woodside for logistical, methodological, and data entry support, K. Will for survey data entry, and L. Dorle for survey coding. We thank R. Brummel, A. Kokotovich, and T. Woods for comments on an earlier version of this article. We also thank our collaborators in our related research study, L. A. Baker, S.E. Hobbie, J. Y. King, and J.P. McFadden.

Copyright 2014 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Education
  • Residential yards
  • Urban ecosystem understanding
  • Yard care choices


Dive into the research topics of 'Yard stories: Examining residents' conceptions of their yards as part of the urban ecosystem in Minnesota'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this