A multi-city comparison of front and backyard differences in plant species diversity and nitrogen cycling in residential landscapes


We hypothesize that lower public visibility of residential backyards reduces households' desire for social conformity, which alters residential land management and produces differences in ecological composition and function between front and backyards. Using lawn vegetation plots (7 cities) and soil cores (6 cities), we examine plant species richness and evenness and nitrogen cycling of lawns in Boston, Baltimore, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, Los Angeles (LA), and Salt Lake City (SLC). Seven soil nitrogen measures were compared because different irrigation and fertilization practices may vary between front and backyards, which may alter nitrogen cycling in soils. In addition to lawn-only measurements, we collected and analyzed plant species richness for entire yards—cultivated (intentionally planted) and spontaneous (self-regenerating)—for front and backyards in just two cities: LA and SLC. Lawn plant species and soils were not different between front and backyards in our multi-city comparisons. However, entire-yard plant analyses in LA and SLC revealed that frontyards had significantly fewer species than backyards for both cultivated and spontaneous species. These results suggest that there is a need for a more rich and social-ecologically nuanced understanding of potential residential, household behaviors and their ecological consequences.

Publication Type
Journal Article
Tara L.E. Trammell
Rinku Roy Chowdhury, Clark University
John Rogan, Clark University
Deborah G. Martin
Neil Bettez
Jeannine Cavender-Bares, University of Minnesota
Peter M. Groffman
Sharon J. Hall
James B. Heffernan
Sarah E. Hobbie
Kelli L. Larson
Jennifer L. Morse
Christopher Neill
Laura A. Ogden
Jarlath P.M. O'Neil-Dunne
Diane Pataki, University of Utah
William D. Pearse
Colin Polsky
Megan M. Wheeler
Landscape and Urban Planning