, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 173-194

Yard stories: examining residents’ conceptions of their yards as part of the urban ecosystem in Minnesota

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Abstract

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.