Plant and Soil

, Volume 413, Issue 1–2, pp 45–57 | Cite as

Vacant urban lot soils and their potential to support ecosystem services

  • Dustin L. HerrmannEmail author
  • William D. Shuster
  • Ahjond S. Garmestani
Regular Article



Urban soils are the basis of many ecosystem services in cities. Here, we examine formerly residential vacant lot soils in Cleveland, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan, USA for their potential to provide multiple ecosystem services. We examine two key contrasts: 1) differences between cities and 2) differences within vacant lots created during demolition, specifically pre-existing (i.e., prior to demolition) soils outside of the building footprint and fill soils added within the former building’s footprint.


Deep soil cores were collected from vacant lots in Cleveland and Detroit. Soil properties that are proxies for three ecosystem services were measured: hydraulic conductivity for stormwater retention, topsoil depth and soil nitrogen (N) level for support for plant growth, and soil carbon (C) content for C storage.


Both city and soil group contrasts created distinct ecosystem service provisioning based on proxy measures. Cleveland soils had greater hydraulic conductivity and greater soil C and N levels but thinner topsoil layers than Detroit. Within vacant lots of both cities, pre-existing soils had greater soil C and N levels, but lower hydraulic conductivity values than fill soils.


Soil properties of vacant lots were generally suitable for providing multiple ecosystem services. City-level differences in soil properties created differences in ecosystem service potential between cities and these differences were evident in pre-existing and fill soils. When comparing between cities, though, fill soils were more similar than pre-existing soils indicating some homogenization of ecosystem service potential with greater redistribution of soil.


Cleveland Detroit Ecosystem services Vacant lots Shrinking cities 



We thank A. Knerl and K. Gilkey for research assistance. Previous versions of this paper were greatly improved by the comments of three anonymous reviewers. Partial financial support was provided by an appointment of D.L. Herrmann to the research participation program with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education through the US DOE and US EPA. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not represent the views or policies of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Compliance with Ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland (outside the USA)  2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dustin L. Herrmann
    • 1
    Email author
  • William D. Shuster
    • 2
  • Ahjond S. Garmestani
    • 2
  1. 1.Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Research Participant ProgramUnited States Environmental Protection AgencyCincinnatiUSA
  2. 2.National Risk Management Research Laboratory, Office of Research and DevelopmentUnited States Environmental Protection AgencyCincinnatiUSA

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