Urban forests are increasingly valued for multiple benefits such as amenity, cultural values, native biodiversity, ecosystem services, and carbon sequestration. Urban biodiversity in particular, is the new focus although global homogenisation is undermining regional differentiation. In the northern hemisphere (e.g., Canada and USA) and in the southern hemisphere, particularly in countries like South Africa, Australia, South America and New Zealand, local biodiversity is further impacted by historical colonisation from Europe. After several centuries, urban forests are now composed of synthetic and spontaneous mixtures of native species, and exotic species from around the temperate world (e.g., Europe, North and South America, South Africa, Asia). As far as we are aware no-one has carried out in-depth study of these synthetic forests in any Southern Hemisphere city. Here we describe the composition, structure, and biodiversity conservation imperatives of urban temperate forests at 90 random locations in Christchurch city, New Zealand.
We document considerable plant diversity; the total number of species encountered in the 253 sampled urban forest patches was 486. Despite this incredibly variable data set, our ability to explain variation in species richness was surprisingly good and clearly indicates that total species richness was higher in larger patches with greater litter and vegetation cover, and taller canopy height. Species richness was also higher in patches surrounded by higher population densities and closer to very large native forest patches. Native species richness was higher in patches with higher soil pH, lower canopy height, and greater litter cover and in patches closer to very large native forest patches indicating dispersal out of native areas and into gardens. Eight distinct forest communities were identified by Two-Way INdicator SPecies ANalysis (TWINSPAN) using the occurrence of 241 species that occurred in more than two out of all 253 forest patches.
Christchurch urban forest canopies were dominated by exotic tree species in parklands and in street tree plantings (linear parkland). Native tree and shrub species were not as common in public spaces but their overall density high in residential gardens. There was some explanatory power in our data, since less deprivation resulted in greater diversity and density, and more native species, which in turn is associated with private ownership. We hypothesise that a number of other factors, which were not well reflected in our measured environmental variables, are responsible for much of the remaining variation in the plant community structure, e.g., advertising, peoples choice. For a more sustainable asset base of native trees in New Zealand cities we need more, longer-lived native species, in large public spaces, including a greater proportion of species that bear fruit and nectar suitable for native wildlife. We may then achieve cities with ecological integrity that present multiple historical dimensions, and sequester carbon in legible landscapes. (C) 2009 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.