The efficacy of urban habitat enhancement programs for conserving native plants and human-sensitive animals

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Urban development drives habitat loss and degradation, which often leads to species extirpation. Urban habitat enhancement programs encourage the public to protect or improve the quality of habitat for native or human-sensitive species within the urban matrix. These programs are increasingly common, yet their effectiveness is rarely evaluated. Here, we assessed an urban habitat enhancement program in Fort Collins, Colorado by comparing plant, bird, and butterfly communities in certified residential open spaces to those in uncertified residential open spaces and public natural areas. Our objectives were to evaluate: 1) the degree to which the enhancement program increased native vegetation cover and structural heterogeneity in enhanced residential open spaces relative to other site types, 2) whether sites enrolled in the program had greater occurrence of native and human-sensitive bird and butterfly species, and 3) the relative influence of site- and landscape-level factors on these outcomes. Although native vegetation cover did not differ across site types, certified residential open spaces and public natural areas had consistently less mowed vegetation cover than uncertified residential open spaces sites. Additionally, we detected more human-sensitive bird species in certified residential open spaces than uncertified residential open space and found that native vegetation cover across all sites was positively associated with butterfly richness. Although residential sites are not a substitute for public natural areas, even simple stewardship practices, such as reduced mowing of vegetation, can positively influence wildlife communities in cities. Additionally, these programs can help connect urban residents to native ecosystems and play a role in garnering support for conservation efforts.




Jimenez, M. F., Pejchar, L., Reed, S. E., & McHale, M. R. (2022). The efficacy of urban habitat enhancement programs for conserving native plants and human-sensitive animals. Landscape and Urban Planning, 220.

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