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Differential organization of taxonomic and functional diversity in an urban woody plant metacommunity

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Swan, Christopher M.; Johnson, Anna; Nowak, David J.; Acosta, Alicia

Year Published



Applied Vegetation Science


Questions: Urban ecosystems present an opportunity to study ecological communities in the context of unprecedented environmental change. In the face of urban land conversion, ecologists observe new patterns of species composition, dominance, behaviour and dispersal.We propose a hypothetical socioeconomic template that describes a gradient in human investment in community composition to aid in organizing the human role in shaping urban biodiversity. We asked: (1) what is the relative magnitude of taxonomic and functional turnover of urban woody plant communities across different land-use types; and (2) do land uses exhibiting higher intensity of humanmanagement of biodiversity support higher turnover over those with less human influence? Location: Baltimore, MD, USA (39°17′ N, 76°38′ W). Methods: We examined patterns in woody plant biodiversity across 209 plots of different urban land uses. Six land-use types were arranged along a gradient in the intensity through which humans are hypothesized to manage species composition at the plot scale. We calculated local, or a-diversity, and compositional turnover, or b-diversity, of taxonomic and functional diversity across plots within each land-use type. We compared the magnitude of these biodiversity measures between land uses to test our conceptual template for how the intensity of humanmanagement can predict urban woody plant biodiversity. Results: We observed high taxonomic turnover in residential and commercial plots compared with vacant or open space land-use areas. This was associated with a weaker, but similar, pattern in functional diversity. This was associated with low total abundance in residential and commercial plots. Furthermore, the number of unique species was extremely high in the same land-use types. Conclusions: Our observations help explain why turnover can be high in heavily managed plots relative to vacant land. In patches without heavy human management, we found low levels of turnover. This highlights the importance of assessing diversity both locally and at the level of turnover between patches. Management and policy can benefit from the perspective embodied in the conceptual approach tested here.


Functional traits; Metacommunity; Urban ecosystem; Woody plants; a-Diversity; b-Diversity


Swan, Christopher M.; Johnson, Anna; Nowak, David J.; Acosta, Alicia. 2016. Differential organization of taxonomic and functional diversity in an urban woody plant metacommunity. Applied Vegetation Science. 20(1): 7-17.

Last updated on: September 18, 2017