Urban Ecosystems

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 403–413 | Cite as

Intrinsic and extrinsic drivers of yard vegetation in urban residential areas: implications for conservation planning

  • Khrisia A. Torres-Camacho
  • Elvia J. Meléndez-AckermanEmail author
  • Elizabeth Díaz
  • Nicolás Correa
  • Cristina Vila-Ruiz
  • Sofía Olivero-Lora
  • Angélica Erazo
  • José Fontánez
  • Luis Santiago
  • José Seguinot


Residential green areas often represent a significant portion of a city’s green infrastructure which has generated great interest in studying the factors that contribute to the formation of plant associations in residential yards. This project evaluated the external factors to the household social-ecological system that influence the availability of plants for residential landscapes and how they may influence the presence of native plants in residential yards on households within the Río Piedras watershed in the metropolitan area of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The methods used included a residential survey with open and closed questions that addressed the sources of plants used in landscaping and an evaluation of ornamental plant species inventories from local nurseries. A total of 432 yards were surveyed. Yard plants in this watershed have multiple sources. Aside from obtaining plants at local nurseries, natural dispersion, exchanges among family and friends and historical plantings can be just as important sources of yard plants. Our results also suggest that the majority of residents do not know where to get native plants which could represent a challenge for the development and implementation of initiatives for natives gardening. At the same time, most commercial nurseries have a deficit of native plants in their inventories. This information is critical to species conservation strategies that seek the inclusion of urban residential areas and may help improve initiatives about the involvement of individual citizens in sustainable gardening practices at the residential scale.


Social-ecological system Residential areas Native plants Watershed Nursery trade 



This work has been supported by NSF-IGERT (HRD 00801577) and its program Agents of Change, CREST-CATEC (HRD-0734826) and, NSF San Juan ULTRA-ex (DEB-0948507). We would like to thank Pedro Delgado, Alejandra Bonilla, Stella González, Karla Torres, Jessenia Fontánez, Aramis Garay, Carla López-Lloreda and Sofyaneli Colón for their help during fieldwork and the residents of the Río Piedras watershed for their willingness to participate in his study.

Supplementary material

11252_2016_602_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (188 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 188 kb)


  1. Abendroth S, Kowarik I, Müller N, von der Lippe M (2012) The green colonial heritage: woody plants in parks of Bandung, Indonesia. Landsc Urban Plan 106:12–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alberti M, Marzluff JM, Shulenberger E, Bradley G, Ryan C, Zumbrunnen C (2003) Integrating humans into ecology: opportunities and challenges for studying urban ecosystems. Bioscience 53:1169–1179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Archibold OW, Wagner L (2007) Volunteer vascular plant establishment on roofs at the University of Saskatchewan. Landsc Urban Plan 79:20–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bhatti M, Church A (2001) Cultivating natures: homes and gardens in late modernity. Sociology 35:365–383CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blaustein R (2013) Urban biodiversity gain new converts. Bioscience 63:72–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blumenthal MD, Hufbauer RA (2007) Increased plant size in exotic populations: a common-garden test with 14 invasive species. Ecology 88:2758–2765CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Brandeis TJ, Helmer E, Marcano Vega H, lugo AE (2009) Climate shapes the novel plant comunities that form afte deforestation in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Island. For Ecol Manag 258:1704–1718CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brandeis TJ, Escobedo FJ, Staudhammer CL, Nowak DJ, Zipperer WC (2014) San Juan Bay Estuary watershed urban forest inventory. Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-GTR-190, USDA-Forest Service, Southern Research Station, AshevilleGoogle Scholar
  9. Burghardt KT, Tallamy DW, Shriver WG (2009) Impact of native plants on bird and butterfly biodiversity in suburban landscapes. Conserv Biol 23:219–224CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Clemants SE, Moore G (2003) Patterns of species richness in eight northeastern United States cities. Urban Habitats 1:1–16Google Scholar
  11. Coffman RR, Cech S, Getting R (2014) Living architecture and biological dispersal. J Living Archit 1:1–9Google Scholar
  12. NRCS-Natural Resources and Conservation Service USDA (1998) Backyard conservation: bringing conservation from the countryside to the backyard. Accessed 9 July 2015
  13. Cook ME, Hall SJ, Larson KL (2012) Residential landscapes as social-ecological systems: a synthesis of multi-scalar interactions between people and their home environment. Urban Ecosyst 15:19–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Daehler CC (2003) Performance comparisons of Co-occurring native and alien invasive plants: implications for conservation and restoration. Ann Rev Ecol Evol Syst 34:183–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dearborn DC, Kark S (2010) Motivations for conserving urban biodiversity. Conserv Biol 24:432–440CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. EPA (2005) Integrating environmentally beneficial landscaping into your Environmental management system. Accessed 25 Sep 2016
  17. Ernstson H, van der Leeuw SE, Redman CL, Meffert DJ, Davis G, Alfsen C, Elmqvist T (2010) Urban transitions: on urban resilience and human-dominated ecosystems. Ambio 39:531–545CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  18. Eyssartier C, Ladio AH, Lozada M (2013) Traditional horticultural and gathering practices in two semi-rural populations of Northwestern Patagonia. J Arid Environ 97:18–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Faeth SH, Bang C, Saari S (2011) Urban biodiversity: patterns and mechanisms. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1223:69–81CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Freeman C, Dickinson KJM, Porter S, van Heezik Y (2012) My garden is an expression of me: exploring householders’ relationships with their gardens. J Environ Psychol 32:35–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Garcia-Montiel DC, Verdejo-Ortiz JC, Santiago-Bartolomei R, Vila-Ruiz CP, Santiago L, Meléndez-Ackerman EJ (2014) Food sources and accessibility and waste disposal patterns across an urban tropical watershed: implications for the flow of materials and energy. Ecol Soc 19(1):37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Goddard MA, Dougill AJ, Benton TG (2010) Scaling up from gardens: biodiversity conservation in urban environments. Trends Ecol Evol 25:90–98CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Grove JM, Troy AR, O’Neil-Dunne JPM, Burch WR Jr, Cadenasso ML, Pickett STA (2006) Characterization of households and its implications for the vegetation of urban ecosystems. Ecosystems 9:578–597CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hall CR, Hodges AW, Palma MA (2011) Sales, trade flows and marketing practices within the U.S. Nursery industry. J Environ Hortic 29:14–24Google Scholar
  25. Helfand GE, Park JS, Nassauer JI, Kosek S (2006) The economics of native plants in residential landscape designs. Landsc Urban Plan 78:229–240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Herzog CP (2013) A multifunctional green infrastructure design to protect and improve native biodiversity in Rio de Janeiro. Landsc Ecol Eng. doi: 10.1007/s11355-013-0233-8 Google Scholar
  27. Hope D, Gries C, Zhu WX, Fagan WF, Redman CL, Grimm NB, Nelson AL, Martin C, Kinzig A (2003) Socioeconomics drive urban plant diversity. Proc Nat Acad Sci 100:8788–8792CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  28. Hunter CRM, Brown DG (2012) Spatial contagion: gardening along the street in residential neighborhoods. Landsc Urban Plan 105:407–416CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ignatieva M, C Meurk, M van Roon, R Simcock, and G Stewart (2008) How to Put Nature into Our Neighborhoods: Application of Low Impact Urban Design and Development (LIUDD) Principles, with a Biodiversity Focus, for New Zealand Developers and Homeowners. Landcare Research Science Series No. 35 Lincoln, New Zealand: Manaaki Whenua Press.Google Scholar
  30. Ignatieva M, Stewart GH, Meurk C (2011) Planning and design of ecological networks in urban areas. Landsc Ecol Eng 7:17–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. IUCN Programme Office for Central Europe (2004) Afforestation and reforestation for climate change mitigation: potentials for Pan-European action. Accessed 9 July 2015.
  32. Kinzig AP, Warren P, Martin C, Hope D, Katti M (2005) The effects of human socioeconomic status and cultural characteristics on urban patterns of biodiversity. Ecol Soc 10(1):23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kowarik I (2011) Novel urban ecosystems, biodiversity, and conservation. Environ Pollut 159:1974–1983CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Ladio AH, Lozada M (2009) Human ecology, ethnobotany and traditional practices in rural populations inhabiting the Monte region: resilience and ecological knowledge. J Arid Environ 73:222–227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lerman SB, Turner VK, Bang C (2012) Homeowner associations as a vehicle for promoting native urban biodiversity. Ecol Soc 17(4):45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lugo AE, Brandeis TJ (2005) A new mix of alien and native species coexist in Puerto Rico’s landscapes. In: Burslem DFRP, Pinard MA, Hatley SE (eds) Biotic interactions in the tropics: their role in the maintenance of species diversity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 484–509CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lugo AE, Ramos O, Rodríguez-Pedraza C (2011) Description of the Río Piedras River watershed and its surrounding environment. International Institute of Tropical Forestry, USDA, Forest Service, Jardín Botánico Sur, San Juan, Puerto Rico. FS-980. 46pGoogle Scholar
  38. Marco A, Barthelemy C, Dutoit T, Bertaudière-Montes V (2010) Bridging human and natural sciences for a better understanding of urban floral patterns: the role of planting practices in Mediterranean gardens. Ecol Soc 15(2):2CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Martin AC, Peterson KA, Stabler LB (2003) Residential landscaping in Phoenix Arizona, U.S.: practices and preferences relative to covenants, codes, and restrictions. J Arboric 29:9–17Google Scholar
  40. Martin CA, Warren PS, Kinzing AP (2004) Neighborhood socioeconomic status is a useful predictor of perennial landscape vegetation in residential neighborhoods and embedded small parks of Phoenix, AZ. Landsc Urban Plan 69:355–368CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. McKinney ML (2006) Urbanization as a major cause of biotic homogenization. Biol Conserv 127:247–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Meléndez-Ackerman EJ, Santiago-Bartolomei R, Vila-Ruiz CP, Santiago LE, García-Montiel D, Verdejo-Ortiz JC, Manrique-Hernández H, Hernández-Calo E (2014) Socioeconomic drivers of yard sustainable practices in a tropical city. Ecol Soc 19(3):20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Meléndez-Ackerman EJ, Nytch JC, Santiago-Acevedo LE, Verdejo-Ortiz JC, Santiago-Bartolomei R, Ramos-Santiago LLE, Muñoz-Erickson TA (2016) Synthesis of household yard area dynamics in the city of San Juan using multi-scalar social-ecological perspectives. Sustainability 8(5):481. doi: 10.3390/su8050481 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) Ecosystems and human well-being: biodiversity synthesis. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC. . Accessed 9 July 2015
  45. Møller AL, Skou A-MT, Kollmann J (2012) Dispersal limitation at the expanding range margin of an evergreen tree in urban habitats? Urban For Urban Green 11:59–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Moro MF, Westerkamp C, Soares de Araújo F (2014) How much importance is given to native plants in cities’ treescape? A case study in Fortaleza, Brazil. Urban For Urban Green 13:365–374CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Neasfey M J (2009) The role of native plants in the sustainable sites initiatives. Native plants, natural landscapes 22:1–2. Accessed 9 July 2015
  48. Ortega-Álvarez R, Rodríguez-Correa HA, MacGregor-Fors I (2011) Trees and the city: diversity and composition along a neotropical gradient of urbanization. Intl J Ecol 2011(704084):8p. doi: 10.1155/2011/704084 Google Scholar
  49. Palma AM, Hall CR, Collart A (2011) Repeat buying behavior for ornamental plants: a consumer profile. J Food Dist Res 42:67–77Google Scholar
  50. Peterson MN, Thurmond B, Mchale M, Rodriguez S, Bondell HD, Cook M (2012) Predicting native plant landscaping preferences in urban areas. Sustain Cities Soc 5:70–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Plant Conservation Alliance (2012) Bureau of Land Management, Washington DC, USA. Accessed 9 July 2015
  52. Pyšek P (1998) Alien and native species in central European urban floras: a quantitative comparison. J Biogeogr 25:155–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Rahman H (2013) A study on exploration of ethnobotanical knowledge of rural community in Bangladesh: basis for biodiversity conservation. Biodiversity 2013, 369138. doi: 10.1155/2013/369138, 10p Google Scholar
  54. Ramos-González OM (2014) The green areas of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Ecol Soc 19(3):21. doi: 10.5751/ES-06598-190321 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Ramos-Santiago LE, Villanueva-Cubero L, Santiago-Acevedo LE, Rodríguez-Meléndez YN (2014) Green area loss in San Juan’s inner-ring suburban neighborhoods: a multidisciplinary approach to analyzing green/gray area dynamics. Ecol Soc 19:4CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Reichard SH, White P (2001) Horticulture as a Pathway of Invasive Plant Introductions in the United States. Bioscience 51:103–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Säumel I, Kowarik I (2010) Urban rivers as dispersal corridors for primarily wind-dispersed invasive tree species. Landsc Urban Plan 94:244–249CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Seguinot-Barbosa JS, Hernández-García R (2012) Metodología para el diseño de muestreo socio-ecológico en la Cuenca del río Piedras: San Juan, Puerto Rico. Accessed 9 July 2015
  59. Sepúlveda Rivera A (2004) Puerto Rico urbano. Atlas histórico de la ciudad puertorriqueña. Vol. 1. Centro de Investigaciones CARIMAR and Departamento de Transportación y Obras Públicas, San Juan, Puerto RicoGoogle Scholar
  60. Slattery BE, Reshetiloff K, Zwicker SM (2003) Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping: Chesapeake Bay Watershed. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Chesapeake Bay Field Office, Annapolis, MD. Accessed 9 July 2015
  61. Smart MS, Thompson K, Marrs RH, Le Duc MG, Maskell LC, Firbank LG (2006) Biotic homogenization and changes in species diversity across human-modified ecosystems. Proc R Soc 273:2659–2665CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tallamy D (2009) Bringing nature home. Timber Press Co, PortlandGoogle Scholar
  63. Tallamy DW, Shropshire KJ (2009) Ranking lepidopteran use of native versus introduced plants. Conserv Biol 23:941–947CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. Turner NJ, Loewen DC (1998) The original “free trade”: exchange of botanical products and associated plant knowledge in Northwestern North America. Anthropológica XL 40:49–70Google Scholar
  65. United Nations Environment Programme (2008) Plant for the planet - The Billion Tree Campaign. Accessed 9 July 2015
  66. United States Census Bureau (2010) American fact finder. U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, D.C., USA. URL: Accessed 9 July 2015
  67. USDA-Forest Service (2012) Native plant materials policy: A strategic framework. FS-1006. . Accessed 9 July 2015
  68. Vila-Ruiz CP, Meléndez-Ackerman EJ, Santiago-Bartolomei R, Garcia-Montiel D, Lastra L, Figuerola CE, Fumero-Cabán J (2014) Plant species richness and abundance in residential yards across a tropical watershed: implications for urban sustainability. Ecol Soc 19(3):22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Walker SJ, Grimm NB, Briggs JM, Gries C, Dugan L (2009) Effects of urbanization on plant species diversity in central Arizona. Front Ecol Environ 7:465–470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Webb RMT, Gómez-Gómez F (1998) Synoptic survey of water quality and bottom sediments, San Juan Bay estuary system, Puerto Rico, December 1994–July 1995. Water Resources Investigations Report 97–4144. US Department of the Interior, US Geological Survey, San JuanGoogle Scholar
  71. Yue C, Hurley TM, Anderson N (2011) Do native and invasive labels affect consumer willingness to pay for plants? Evidence from experimental auctions. Agric Econ 42(2):195–205Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Khrisia A. Torres-Camacho
    • 1
  • Elvia J. Meléndez-Ackerman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Elizabeth Díaz
    • 2
  • Nicolás Correa
    • 2
    • 3
  • Cristina Vila-Ruiz
    • 2
    • 4
  • Sofía Olivero-Lora
    • 1
  • Angélica Erazo
    • 1
  • José Fontánez
    • 3
  • Luis Santiago
    • 5
  • José Seguinot
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of Puerto RicoSan JuanUSA
  2. 2.Center for Applied Tropical Ecology and ConservationUniversity of Puerto RicoSan JuanUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUniversity of Puerto RicoSan JuanUSA
  4. 4.Department of Forestry and Environmental Resource, College of Natural ResourceNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  5. 5.Graduate School of PlanningUniversity of Puerto RicoSan JuanUSA
  6. 6.Environmental Health Department, Graduate School of Public HealthUniversity of Puerto RicoSan JuanUSA

Personalised recommendations