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Plant species richness and abundance in residential yards across a tropical watershed: implications for urban sustainability

Cristina P. Vila-Ruiz, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras
Elvia Meléndez-Ackerman, Center for Applied Tropical Ecology and Conservation, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras; Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras
Raul Santiago-Bartolomei, Graduate School of Planning, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras
Diana Garcia-Montiel, Center for Applied Tropical Ecology and Conservation, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras
Lourdes Lastra, Department of Biology, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras
Cielo E. Figuerola, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras
Jose Fumero-Caban, Center for Applied Tropical Ecology and Conservation, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras; Department of Biology, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-06164-190322

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Abstract

Green spaces within residential areas provide important contributions to the sustainability of urban systems. Therefore, studying the characteristics of these areas has become a research priority in cities worldwide. This project evaluated various aspects of the plant biodiversity of residential yards (i.e., front yards and back yards within the Río Piedras watershed in the San Juan metropolitan area of Puerto Rico). Our work included gathering information on vegetation composition and abundance of woody species (i.e., trees, shrubs, palms, ferns) and large herbs (>2 m height), species origin (native vs. introduced), and species uses (ornamental, food, and medicinal plants). A total of 424 yards were surveyed within an area of 187,191 m². We found 383 woody species, with shrubs being the most abundant plant habitat. As expected, residential yards hosted a disproportionate amount of introduced species (69.5%). The most common shrub species were all non-native ornamentals, whereas the most common tree species included food trees as well as ornamental plants and two native species. Front yards hosted more ornamental species per unit area than backyards, while the latter had more food plants. The high amount of introduced species may present a challenge in terms of implementation of plant conservation initiatives if there is no clear definition of urban conservation goals. On the other hand, the high frequency of yards containing food plants may facilitate the development of residential initiatives that could provide future adaptive capacity to food shortages.

Key words

backyards; ecosystem services; front yards; plant diversity; residential landscapes; residential green spaces; tropical watersheds; urban systems; urban sustainability

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087