Indigenous plants promote insect biodiversity in urban greenspaces

Luis Mata, Alan N. Andersen, Alejandra Morán-Ordóñez, Amy K. Hahs, Anna Backstrom, Christopher D. Ives, Daniel Bickel, David Duncan, Estibaliz Palma, Freya Thomas, Kate Cranney, Ken Walker, Ian Shears, Linda Semeraro, Mallik Malipatil, Melinda L. Moir, Michaela Plein, Nick Porch, Peter A. Vesk, Tessa R. SmithYvonne Lynch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
19 Downloads (Pure)


The contribution of urban greenspaces to support biodiversity and provide benefits for people is increasingly recognized. However, ongoing management practices favor vegetation oversimplification, often limiting greenspaces to lawns and tree canopy rather than multi-layered vegetation that includes under- and midstorey, and the use of nonnative species. These practices hinder the potential of greenspaces to sustain indigenous biodiversity, particularly for taxa like insects that rely on plants for food and habitat. Yet, little is known about which plant species may maximize positive outcomes for taxonomically and functionally diverse insect communities in greenspaces. Additionally, while cities are expected to experience high rates of introductions, quantitative assessments of the relative occupancy of indigenous vs. introduced insect species in greenspace are rare, hindering understanding of how management may promote indigenous biodiversity while limiting the establishment of introduced insects. Using a hierarchically replicated study design across 15 public parks, we recorded occurrence data from 552 insect species on 133 plant species, differing in planting design element (lawn, midstorey, and tree canopy), midstorey growth form (forbs, lilioids, graminoids, and shrubs) and origin (nonnative, native, and indigenous), to assess (1) the relative contributions of indigenous and introduced insect species and (2) which plant species sustained the highest number of indigenous insects. We found that the insect community was overwhelmingly composed of indigenous rather than introduced species. Our findings further highlight the core role of multi-layered vegetation in sustaining high insect biodiversity in urban areas, with indigenous midstorey and canopy representing key elements to maintain rich and functionally diverse indigenous insect communities. Intriguingly, graminoids supported the highest indigenous insect richness across all studied growth forms by plant origin groups. Our work highlights the opportunity presented by indigenous understory and midstorey plants, particularly indigenous graminoids, in our study area to promote indigenous insect biodiversity in urban greenspaces. Our study provides a blueprint and stimulus for architects, engineers, developers, designers, and planners to incorporate into their practice plant species palettes that foster a larger presence of indigenous over regionally native or nonnative plant species, while incorporating a broader mixture of midstorey growth forms.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02309
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number4
Early online date19 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


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