City birds prefer rich neighbors

The Central Arizona-Phoenix Long Term Ecological Research Project has found that the bird population has a slightly higher species richness (number of species) and greater abundance (number of birds in general) in urban Phoenix than in the surrounding Sonoran Desert, but the real surprise comes in a recent study that shows that the city birds can be truly discriminating about where they choose to live. The study's results indicate that bird populations are influenced by economic factors -- more species live in wealthy neighborhoods than in middle and lower income areas.

In a study of 15 small community parks located in Phoenix neighborhoods with distinct socioeconomic classifications ranging from lower to upper income, Arizona State University ecologists Ann P. Kinzig and Paige Warren measured the abundance and diversity of both birds and trees. The researchers chose parks rather than residential yards because these city-controlled spaces offered comparable environments for the study sites, with a similar landscape (grass, athletic fields, facilities and scattered trees) but significant differences in the surrounding neighborhoods.

"What we are seeing is a pretty strong trend in the data," said Kinzig. "We can't explain bird diversity in the parks by the size of the parks, or the types or sizes of trees in the parks, which is what we might expect. Instead, the characteristics of the neighborhood, including the income of the residents, seem to play a significant role in influencing the number of species that live in the park ."

Trees and other vegetation are considered to be a major factor affecting bird populations. But the study's findings on diversity and abundance of park trees, which are the primary vegetation in the survey sites, do not correspond with the bird data. While bird populations were found to be most diverse in upper income neighborhood parks and progressively less diverse in parks in middle and lower income neighborhoods,

Contact: James Hathaway
Arizona State University

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