Socio-Economics and Vegetation Change in Urban Ecosystems: Patterns in Space and Time
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By 2050, 70% of the Earth’s human population will live in urban areas. Urbanization can have a devastating impact on local ecosystems, but these impacts vary across time and space. Identifying links between spatiotemporal change in urban ecosystems and neighborhood socio-economics is crucial to management aimed at maintaining flora and fauna in urban areas. Here, we tracked 20 years of socio-economic change and 15 years of vegetation change in 32 residential neighborhoods in south-eastern Australia. Regression models that explicitly accounted for a time lag between neighborhood socio-economic characteristics and vegetation response explained more variation in vegetation cover than models that ignored the effects of time. Also, relationships between vegetation and socio-economic factors were stronger in later years for the same neighborhoods suggesting the influence of socio-economics is more readily identified in established neighborhoods. Socio-economic variables alone, or in combination with biophysical variables, were better predictors of vegetation cover than only biophysical variables. Across space, vegetation cover had a negative quadratic relationship with neighborhood housing density, peaking at mid-density values, and a positive relationship with education level and immigration status (the percentage of residents with a non-Australian background). Over time, housing density had a positive relationship with vegetation cover, reflecting an increase in vegetation as neighborhoods develop. Our results highlight the need to understand temporal context when attempting to explain contemporary patterns in vegetation cover and the increasing importance of socio-economic factors in influencing cover as neighborhoods become established.