Urban Ecosystems

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 73–86 | Cite as

Understanding preferences for tree attributes: the relative effects of socio-economic and local environmental factors

  • Meghan L. AvolioEmail author
  • Diane E. Pataki
  • Stephanie Pincetl
  • Thomas W. Gillespie
  • G. Darrel Jenerette
  • Heather R. McCarthy


Urban plant biodiversity is influenced by both the physical environment and attitudes and preferences of urban residents for specific plant types. Urban residents are assumed to be disconnected from their immediate environment, and cultural and societal factors have been emphasized over environmental factors in studies of landscaping choices. However, we postulate that local climatic and environmental factors can also affect preferences for plant attributes. Therefore, spatial and temporal patterns in urban tree biodiversity may be driven not only by the direct effect of environmental variables on plant function, but also by the effect of environmental variables on attitudes toward trees and associated choices about which types of trees to plant. Here, we tested the relative effects of socio-economic and local environmental factors on preferences toward tree attributes in five counties in southern California in and surrounding Los Angeles, based on 1,029 household surveys. We found that local environmental factors have as strong an effect on preferences for tree attributes as socio-economic factors. Specifically, people located in hotter climates (average maximum temperature 25.1 °C) were more likely to value shade trees than those located in cooler regions (23.1 °C). Additionally, people located in desert areas were less likely to consider trees to be important in their city compared with people located in naturally forested areas. Overall, our research demonstrates the inherent connections between local environmental factors and perceptions of nature, even in large modern cities. Accounting for these factors can contribute to the growing interest in understanding patterns of urban biodiversity.


Cities Climate Demographic Los Angeles CA Precipitation Structural equation modeling Temperature Urban biodiversity 



We thank La’Shaye Ervin and Tara Trammell for their assistance with ArcGIS and comments on our manuscript as well as Victoria Basolo and George Gonzalez for comments on the survey instrument. David Bowling, Chalita Sriladda, Carolina Gomez-Navarro, Greg Maurer, and Allison Chan provided helpful comments on the manuscript as well as two anonymous reviewers. This research was funded by NSF grants DEB 0919381, BCS 0948914, and EAR 1204442.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Meghan L. Avolio
    • 1
    Email author
  • Diane E. Pataki
    • 1
  • Stephanie Pincetl
    • 2
  • Thomas W. Gillespie
    • 3
  • G. Darrel Jenerette
    • 4
  • Heather R. McCarthy
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Environment and SustainabilityUniversity of California Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Department of GeographyUniversity of California Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA
  4. 4.Department of Botany and Plant SciencesUniversity of California RiversideRiversideUSA
  5. 5.Microbiology and Plant BiologyUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA

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