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Heterogeneous urban green areas are bird diversity hotspots: insights using continental-scale citizen science data

Abstract

Context

Urbanization fragments and destroys natural landscapes, generally decreasing bird diversity. While in some cases bird diversity continuously decreases in response to urbanization, in others a non-linear response is evident, with peak bird diversity observed at intermediate levels of urbanization. But many studies previously investigating this pattern are spatially or temporally constrained.

Objectives

In this study, we analyzed the impacts of urbanization on bird diversity, stratified to native and exotic species. We specifically investigated the differences in bird diversity between natural and urban green areas.

Methods

We used eBird citizen science data (> 4,000,000 bird-survey lists) and remotely-sensed landcover data, throughout the contiguous United States of America.

Results

We found a non-linear response to urbanization for both species richness and Shannon diversity. There was distinctly greater bird richness and Shannon diversity in urban green areas compared to natural green areas. Our observed response is likely explained by an increase in habitat heterogeneity of urban green areas compared with natural green areas.

Conclusions

Our work highlights the importance of diverse urban green areas for supporting bird diversity in urban areas. We recommend that urban planning should focus on maintaining high habitat heterogeneity in urban green areas to promote greater bird diversity.

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Data accessibility

All data used for our analyses are open-access from their original sources – eBird data, map of BCRs, and map of NLCD 2011 – but the necessary code and filtered data used to produce the GAMs which formed the main component of the analysis are available here: https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3246994. Other larger data files are available upon request.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the eBird team, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the many contributors to the eBird dataset which allowed for these broad-scale analyses. We also thank anonymous reviewers and Alistair Poore for comments that improved this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Corey T. Callaghan.

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Callaghan, C.T., Bino, G., Major, R.E. et al. Heterogeneous urban green areas are bird diversity hotspots: insights using continental-scale citizen science data. Landscape Ecol 34, 1231–1246 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-019-00851-6

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Keywords

  • eBird
  • Citizen science
  • Urbanization
  • Intermediate disturbance hypothesis
  • Habitat heterogeneity
  • Species richness
  • Shannon diversity