Pocket parks in a compact city: how do birds respond to increasing residential density?


The desire to improve urban sustainability is motivating many city planners to adopt growth strategies that increase residential density, leading to substantial changes to urban landscapes. What effect this change will have on biodiversity remains unclear, but it is expected that the role of public greenspace in providing wildlife habitat will become critical. We explored the role of urban “pocket parks” as habitat for birds, and how this role changed with increasing residential density in the surrounding neighbourhood. We found that parks in neighbourhoods with high levels of public greenspace (corresponding to less residential land) supported more bird species and individuals overall, and more woodland-dependent species, insectivores and hollow-nesters. Total greenspace area was more important (included in the best ranked models for all bird responses) than the configuration (number, average size and connectivity) of greenspace patches. The majority of species were common suburban birds, indicating that species we assume are tolerant to urban areas will be negatively affected by increasing residential density. Parks form part of an interconnected network of urban open space. For parks to continue to support a diverse native bird community, the network must be viewed, managed, and maintained in its entirety. We suggest three key management actions to improve the bird diversity values of urban greenspaces in compact cities: (1) Increase urban greenspace cover in residential neighbourhoods. (2) Increase vegetation structure in greenspace. (3) Encourage homeowners to plant trees and shrubs.

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Thanks to staff from ACT Conservation, Planning and Research, Territory and Municipal Services; Land Development Agency, ACT Planning and Land Authority, and J. Hibberd, P. Barton and P. Lentini for useful discussions; and M. Westgate and I. Stirnemann for providing helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. K.I. was the recipient of a postgraduate independent research scholarship, jointly funded by the Fenner School of Environment and Society (The Australian National University) and Conservation, Planning and Research (ACT Government). Ethics approval was obtained before conducting this work (F.ES.08.10).

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Correspondence to Karen Ikin.

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Ikin, K., Beaty, R.M., Lindenmayer, D.B. et al. Pocket parks in a compact city: how do birds respond to increasing residential density?. Landscape Ecol 28, 45–56 (2013).

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  • Bird diversity
  • Object based image analysis
  • Landscape composition
  • Landscape configuration
  • Planning and management
  • Southeast Australia
  • Spatial analysis
  • Urban form
  • Urban greenspace
  • Urban sustainability