Urban sprawl and species movement may decimate natural plant diversity in an Afro-tropical city
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Although urban sprawl is increasingly becoming a worldwide problem, the effects associated with urbanization on local biodiversity particularly in the developing countries, is still poorly understood. We investigated plant species richness along urban–rural gradients in an Afro-tropical metropolitan Morogoro city in Tanzania, and examined patterns of species movement by humans within and outside the city and its potential impact on habitat homogenization of urban ecosystems. Biodiversity information was assessed in 120 sample plots (25 × 25 m) distributed in core urban, sub-urban and peri-urban (rural) zones, while patterns of plant resource use and species movement were surveyed from 120 households in the study area. We found the highest tree species richness in the urban core (82.6 ± 1.4 species) whereas tree density decreased from peri-urban (465.60 ± 152.03 tree/ha) to urban core (244.00 ± 120.86 tree/ha) and species diversity decreased from urban core (α = 2.82 ± 0.01) to peri-urban area (α = 2.61 ± 0.23). Further, the proportion of exotic species was significantly higher (75.6 %) than that of native species in the study area (p = 0.001). Tree community assemblages showed least differences among the study zones (dissimilarity = 10 %) and appear to have been influenced by local cultural differences, species movement as well as local resource use. Furthermore, species movement exhibited a random and multi-directional pattern perpetuated by human and nonhuman factors. Movements were significantly higher between backyard gardens within the city than from outside. Alien species by far outnumbered native plant species moving across urban landscapes, potentially increasing species homogenization. Conservation awareness is needed to avoid habitat homogenization due to problems associated with urban sprawl and to maintain heterogeneous habitats for the urban wildlife.