Plant communities in Chicago residential neighborhoods show distinct spatial patterns


Residential yards and gardens can have surprisingly high plant diversity. However, we still do not understand all the factors that drive diversity in individual gardens, or how gardens scale up to create larger patterns of urban biodiversity. For example, social interactions between neighbors could affect whether they mimic each other’s yard design, affecting spatial turnover in plant communities. Further, socio-economic differences between neighborhoods might result in distinct plant assemblages across a city. In this paper, we used fieldwork, GIS, and spatial statistics to examine the variability in front yard vegetation—both cultivated and spontaneous plants—in 870 yards in Chicago, Illinois (USA). Our goals were to understand diversity and spatial patterning of plant communities in residential neighborhoods and how they vary with scale, considering alpha, beta, and gamma diversity. We addressed the following questions: (1) How do alpha, beta, and gamma diversity of cultivated and spontaneous plants vary between neighborhoods with different socioeconomic characteristics? (2) Within neighborhoods, do we see spatial autocorrelation in front-yard plant communities? If so, do those spatial patterns affect plant diversity at the neighborhood scale? We found diverse plant communities and distinct spatial patterns across Chicago. Richness and composition of both spontaneous and cultivated plants differed between neighborhoods, with some differences explained by socioeconomic factors such as education. Spontaneous and cultivated plants showed significant spatial autocorrelation, although that spatial autocorrelation generally did not influence neighborhood-scale diversity. Knowledge of these spatial patterns and their socioeconomic drivers could be exploited to increase adoption of environmentally-friendly yard management practices across a city.

Publication Type
Journal Article
Landscape and Urban Planning