Nonhuman city natives in decline but can be conserved

Meadow grass (shown) is the most common plant species in cities around the world. Studies of it and other species show that biodiversity in urban areas is declining but conservation is still possible.

© Mark Goddard

While meadow grass and rock pigeons take the title of most cosmopolitan among plant and bird species, concrete jungles have caused big drops in species diversity overall.

Only 25 percent of native plant species and 8 percent of native bird species exist in city habitats compared with density counts of non-urban species. Land availability and cities’ ages, along with other human-induced factors, best explain the species loss, scientists report February 12 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Despite the declines, cities still have native populations, which, if cultivated, could serve as starting point for conserving nonhuman urban natives, the authors say.

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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