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What shapes plant and animal diversity on urban golf courses?


Recent concern over increasing loss of biodiversity has prompted considerable interest in the role of urban green spaces as reservoirs of local biodiversity. This study assessed the diversity of three indicator taxa - plants, ants and birds - on golf courses spanning a wide range of environmental variation in terms of climate, elevation, course age, size and connectivity to native woodland. Species richness and community composition was further compared between contrasting on-course habitat types that reflect different management intensities. We identified a set of taxon-specific environmental correlates indicating an intricate interplay of landscape- and local-scale variables that affect local species diversity. Our results show that floristic diversity is positively associated with the amount of rainfall, whereas ant and bird diversity are related to local-scale factors, particularly the number of trees and the size of water features on a site. The amount of on-course native habitat was a strong predictor of plant and ant diversity and was also associated with the number of unique species at the site level; this reinforces the value of remnant habitat patches as local biodiversity reservoirs that represent mini hot-spots in an otherwise species-poor urban landscape. Community composition for all three taxa differed markedly between non-playing and playing areas, with boundary and remnant habitats generally having more diverse, species-rich communities. Our results suggest that local floral and faunal biodiversity on urban golf courses can be enhanced by creating woody non-playing areas and, especially, by preserving, restoring or expanding remnant habitats.

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Fig. 1: Location of surveyed golf courses within the Greater Sydney area
Fig. 2: Relationships between Shannon-Wiener diversity index (H) and environmental factors for
Fig. 3: Number of species, by habitat type, across 15 golf courses
Fig. 4: Unconstrained ordination based on latent variable models (LVMs) showing community composition by habitat type across 15 golf courses


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We wish to thank the Greater Sydney Local Land Services who provided the funding for the study. We are grateful to Prof Alan Andersen at CSIRO in Darwin for his generous assistance in ant species identification. We are also grateful for the generous help provided by Dr. Alison Downing and Karen Marais in identifying plant specimens at the Herbarium at Macquarie University. We would like to thank Golf NSW, and the general managers and superintendents of all the involved golf courses for participating in the study.

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Correspondence to Sabine S. Nooten.

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Nooten, S.S., Schultheiss, P., Wright, J. et al. What shapes plant and animal diversity on urban golf courses?. Urban Ecosyst 21, 565–576 (2018).

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  • Biodiversity
  • Community composition
  • Climate
  • Environmental factors
  • Urban environment
  • Golf courses
  • Plants
  • Ants
  • Birds