Urban Ecosystems

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 31–45 | Cite as

Urbanization promotes non-native woody species and diverse plant assemblages in the New York metropolitan region

  • Myla F. J. AronsonEmail author
  • Steven N. Handel
  • Inga P. La Puma
  • Steven E. Clemants


The rapid urbanization of the world has significant ecological consequences that shape global biodiversity patterns. The plant communities now common in urban centers may represent new habitats with unique dynamics and the potential for highly modified ecological services. This study, joining extensive spatial and floristic data sets, examined current distribution patterns of non-native and native woody plant species in the New York metropolitan region, USA. We joined the New York Metropolitan Flora (NYMF) database of woody species with GIS data of urban land cover for 297 5 km by 5 km landscape blocks. We tested the relationship between urbanization and native and non-native species richness patterns, the extent of non-native species presence in the urban area, and the change in beta diversity across a gradient of urban land cover. We found that across the urban–rural gradient, native plant species richness decreased and non-native species richness increased with increasing urban land cover. Total richness does not change across the urban–rural gradient. Our analyses show that these patterns are highly correlated with urbanization, but vary across the New Jersey landscape. We also found an increase in beta diversity with urbanization; urban areas are not homogenized in plant species composition compared to rural areas. Here we show a species-rich flora dominated by non-native species which are differentiating the urban flora. These results can help guide appropriate conservation decisions for the maintenance of plant biodiversity in cities.


Beta diversity Biotic homogenization New Jersey Plant biodiversity Urban floras 



We thank the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for the use of the New York Metropolitan Flora data set and the Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis at Rutgers University for use of land use data sets. We thank P. Smouse, P.J. Morin, J. Gurevitch, and two anonymous reviewers for manuscript comments. We also thank Thomas Young for graphical expertise. This paper is dedicated to our colleague and friend, Steven Clemants, whose warmth, dedication, and significant contribution to the science and conservation of urban floras is greatly missed.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Myla F. J. Aronson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Steven N. Handel
    • 1
  • Inga P. La Puma
    • 2
  • Steven E. Clemants
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural ResourcesRutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA
  2. 2.Department of Forest and Wildlife EcologyUniversity of Wisconsin—MadisonMadisonUSA
  3. 3.Brooklyn Botanic GardenBrooklynUSA

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