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Researchers find 'luxury effect' helps determine plant diversity in urban areas

TEMPE, Ariz. Income level appears to have a major positive effect on plant diversity in urban and suburban areas of Central Arizona, according to a team of researchers that includes several Arizona State University scientists.

The higher the income level the more plant diversity, the researchers found. This "luxury effect" is so pronounced that plant diversity at sites in neighborhoods with incomes above $50,750 per year were on average twice that found in landscapes of less wealthy areas. The researchers present their findings in the current on-line issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"In human-constructed systems, it's as if money is just as important to plants as nutrients and water supply" said Diane Hope, a researcher in Arizona State's Center for Environmental Studies and lead scientist for the survey.

"It's not the money per se, because you don't go and pour money on the ground and plants grow," Hope said. "But rather it's the things that money enables people to do and the way that they live that affects the plant diversity in urban areas."

The findings are the result of a large field survey and analysis of data gathered in the Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research site, a major on-going study to investigate the ecological characteristics of the Central Arizona-Phoenix region and how urbanization is affecting that character. The survey also will provide a baseline of data for future monitoring of the same sites, as well as give an overview of plant diversity, soil chemistry and animal distributions.

The results provide a comprehensive "snapshot" of the ecological characteristics of the Phoenix metro area and surrounding agricultural and desert lands. The survey will be repeated in five-year intervals to monitor long-term changes.

Three general factors -- income level, age of a housing development and whether the plot of land had ever been farmed -- influence plant di
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Contact: Skip Derra
Skip.Derra@asu.edu
480-965-4823
Arizona State University
2-Jul-2003


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