Biodiversity Matters in Cities, Too

Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm, Sweden

Recently, social media feeds were agog over sightings of coyotes in New York City’s Central Park. Many New Yorkers expressed fear over what they viewed as intruders in their urban environment. However, these coyotes are actually a sign of healthy biodiversity.

Biodiversity Beyond the Wilderness

We tend to think of biodiversity in terms of the wild regions of the world. From the re-introduction of native species, such as gray wolves in Yellowstone, to the concerns over the deforestation of the Amazon wiping out plant and animal populations, the fight to maintain biodiversity usually seems pitched towards the wilderness. But the majority of the world’s population lives in urban and suburban settings, and biodiversity matters in these places too. However, like so many places on our planet, this sign of healthy ecosystems is under attack.

Central Park, New York City
Central Park, New York City

Cities impact biodiversity in many ways. As people move into an area, the existing natural landscape is severely altered. Forests and meadows are replaced with buildings and blacktop. Rivers, lakes, and bays are filled with boats and ships, and natural coastlines and riverbanks give way to piers, boardwalks, and boating facilities. The pollution of the air and water increases exponentially the larger a city becomes and the more manufacturing that’s established in the area.

Nurturing Native Species

Red-tailed hawk, Toronto, Canada
Red-tailed hawk, Toronto, Canada. Photo: Franklin Vera Pacheco.

Invasive plant and animal species can crowd out native species and reduce the biodiversity of urban areas. Planting non-native street trees, for instance, can impact native birds and insects, leading to a decrease in their populations. As well, wild birds are under threat from domestic cats that roam freely, including pets and feral cats.

For insect and animal species that adapt to living in manmade parks and gardens, the constant intrusion of people can stress them impact their natural patterns.

Cities around the world are starting to step up to meet the challenges of re-establishing biodiversity. The city of Toronto has developed an ambitious plan to restore biodiversity, issuing a statement that said,

“Habitat loss, invasive species, climate change, and human activities all threaten our native plants and animals. Biodiversity is key to a healthy natural environment and is fundamental to supporting the livability and resilience of the city.”

Incorporating Greenspaces Beyond One Central Park

Roof garden in Hong Kong
Roof garden in Hong Kong. Photo: Holwikaiwmai.

The city is encouraging residents to plant native plants from diverse genetic stock. And in 2010, passed a bylaw requiring the installation of green roofs as a part of most large-scale new developments.

Greenspaces play an important role in developing a healthy ecosystem. While most cities tend to have at least one large greenspace close to its center, such as Central Park in New York City or Hyde Park in London, smaller greenspaces are also essential.

The Stockholm Resilience Center recommends planting more trees and smaller plants alongside roads to create wildlife corridors to allow animals to travel safely through urban environments. And the rise of rooftop gardens around the world is also providing some additional sanctuary for local wildlife.

Healthy for Humans Too

Creating a more diverse natural environment in cities and suburbs not only helps native plants and animals, it’s also good people. The World Health Organization released a report about how important a healthy environment is to the overall health of human beings. Ecosystems that thrive with biodiversity have cleaner air and cleaner water, and they present a buffer against the extreme weather. In addition, urban areas that incorporate nature are more aesthetically pleasing, which makes people happier and lowers stress levels. It also increases the value of real estate because more people want to live there.

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