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Impacts of urban sprawl on species richness of plants, butterflies, gastropods and birds: not only built-up area matters

Abstract

Urban growth is a major factor of global environmental change and has important impacts on biodiversity, such as changes in species composition and biotic homogenization. Most previous studies have focused on effects of urban area as a general measure of urbanization, and on few or single taxa. Here, we analyzed the impacts of the different components of urban sprawl (i.e., scattered and widespread urban growth) on species richness of a variety of taxonomic groups covering mosses, vascular plants, gastropods, butterflies, and birds at the habitat and landscape scales. Besides urban area, we considered the average age, imperviousness, and dispersion degree of urban area, along with human population density, to disentangle the effects of the different components of urban sprawl on biodiversity. The study was carried out in the Swiss Plateau that has undergone substantial urban sprawl in recent decades.

Vascular plants and birds showed the strongest responses to urban sprawl, especially at the landscape scale, with non-native and ruderal plants proliferating and common generalist birds increasing at the expense of specialist birds as urban sprawl grew. Overall, urban area had the greatest contribution on such impacts, but additional effects of urban dispersion (i.e., increase of non-native plants) and human population density (i.e., increases of ruderal plants and common generalist birds) were found. Our findings support the hypothesis that negative impacts of urban sprawl on biodiversity can be reduced by compacting urban growth while still avoiding the formation of very densely populated areas.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the Project ‘Biodiversitätskorrelate für Prozesse und Gradienten der Raumentwicklung (BIKORA)’of the WSL research program ‘Room for People and Nature’ (http://www.wsl.ch/raumanspruch). We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Federal Office for the Environment and the cantonal authorities of Aargau. We wish to acknowledge M. Dawes for constructive comments. Suggestions made by two anonymous referees were also very helpful. We are also grateful to all the specialists who participated in the field surveys of the Swiss Biodiversity Monitoring Program (BDM) and LANAG.

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Correspondence to Elena D. Concepción.

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Concepción, E.D., Obrist, M.K., Moretti, M. et al. Impacts of urban sprawl on species richness of plants, butterflies, gastropods and birds: not only built-up area matters. Urban Ecosyst 19, 225–242 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-015-0474-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-015-0474-4

Keywords

  • Built-up area
  • Biotic homogenization
  • Imperviousness
  • Human population density
  • Time-lagged effects
  • Urban dispersion