Urban Wildlife Bounty
Research reveals cities support a surprising wealth of species
01-26-2015 // Cynthia Berger
National Wildlife Federation
I'M STROLLING THE GROUNDS of the New York Botanical Garden, a quiet green space in the noisy heart of the Bronx. The sun is hot, but once I leave the neat, conventional garden beds and enter the Thain Family Forest, the air is cool under old-growth oak and hickory trees. And when the roar of a JFK-bound jet dies away, I can hear catbirds, white-eyed vireos and a kingbird running through their vocal repertoires.
I’m walking the Spicebush Trail with Myla Aronson, a Rutgers University scientist who is the lead researcher on a groundbreaking study of biodiversity in cities across the globe—a study that refutes what she calls the myth of biotic homogenization. “Everyone assumes that because of globalization, cities are all the same in terms of the plants and animals you find there—mostly rats and pigeons,” Aronson says as we stroll. “It is true that biodiversity is much lower in cities than in undisturbed habitats. But it’s much greater than we expected.”
Completed in 2014, the study was a collaborative effort by two dozen scientists from universities and research institutions around the world. During a four-year period, the group looked at studies of bird diversity in 54 cities and plant diversity in 110 cities. The aggregate data reflect what individual researchers are finding at the local scale: encouraging signs that many species thrive in cities. Researchers in France, for example, recently recorded nearly a third of the nation’s 900 wild bee species living in and around the bustling city of Lyons.