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The impacts of urbanisation and habitat size on local biodiversity and ecosystem functioning

Melliger, Ramona Laila. The impacts of urbanisation and habitat size on local biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. 2017, Doctoral Thesis, University of Basel, Faculty of Science.

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Abstract

Urbanisation is increasing worldwide and regarded a main driver of environmental change. Urban development and associated factors like increased spatial isolation, reduced habitat size and various types of disturbances can alter the dynamics of plant and animal populations in the remaining green areas. Furthermore, changes in abiotic site conditions (e.g. temperature, moisture content) can influence habitat quality and, consequently, the species richness, species composition and functional diversity of plants and animals, which in turn can affect the functioning of ecosystems. Nonetheless, urban areas can harbour a remarkably high species richness and can be of high conservation value by serving as a refugia for many rare and threatened species. It is, therefore, of central importance in conservation biology to disentangle the various drivers of biodiversity in urban landscapes. Within the scope of this thesis, three studies were conducted to examine the consequences of urbanisation on the biodiversity and ecosystem functioning of green areas in the urban region of Basel, Switzerland.
The aim of the first study was to assess the impacts of habitat size and landscape composition of the closer surroundings on the species diversity of three taxonomic groups differing in trophic rank (vascular plants, Orthoptera and Lepidoptera) in meadows and ruderal sites. I also related the response of three traits (body size, dispersal ability and food specialisation) to habitat size in Orthoptera and Lepidoptera. For this purpose, I analysed data of species from the natural heritage inventory of Basel. I found that the response of different groups of species considerably varied depending on the habitat type, taxonomic group and species trait examined. The species richness of Orthoptera and Lepidoptera was positively related to meadow size but not to the size of ruderal sites, while the opposite was true for plants. For Lepidoptera in ruderal sites, the percentage of ruderal sites in the closer surroundings was a better predictor of species richness than habitat size per se.
Forests belong to the most frequent green areas in urban landscapes and provide a wide range of ecosystem functions and thus play a major role for human well-being in cities. The aim of the second study was to examine the potential effects of degree of urbanisation, forest size and the corresponding interaction on the species diversity and functional diversity of vascular plants, ants and spiders. The two arthropod groups do not show species-specific mutualistic or exploitative relationships with plants in contrast to those in the first study. I conducted vegetation surveys and pitfall trapping to sample soil surface-active ants and spiders. In plants, species richness decreased with the degree of urbanisation. Ants and spiders at higher trophic rank showed more pronounced shifts in species composition with increasing degree of urbanisation, while the percentage of forest specialists in both arthropod groups was positively related to forest size. Local site characteristics were also important determinants for species diversity and functional diversity.
In forests, the decomposition of leaf litter is an important component of the process of nutrient cycling and the formation of soil. In this way, litter decomposition contributes to the maintenance of several other ecosystem functions and services. The third study aimed to investigate the effects of urbanisation on leaf litter decomposition process in forests. Standardised litter of Fagus sylvatica leaves was used to assess the impact of urbanisation-related factors on the early stage of decomposition and seasonal microbial activity. I found combined effects of degree of urbanisation and forest size on the decomposition rate of leaf litter (klitter) indicating that forests of similar size differed in abiotic and biotic forest characteristics depending on the degree of urbanisation in the closer surroundings. Furthermore, moisture content of litter was the best predictor of microbial activity, followed by forest size.
The findings of this thesis highlight the necessity to consider different taxonomic groups and functional groups in urban planning to maximise conservation value of urban green areas. In addition to degree of urbanisation, also habitat size was important for the diversity of some groups and leaf litter decomposition process in forests. It was also encouraging to find that even small green sites have the potential to make a significant contribution to biodiversity conservation and essential ecosystem functions in urban landscapes. I recommend that urban planners develop more flexible management strategies to satisfy the different requirements of various groups of species in the corresponding habitat type. Locally adapted management practices may provide a way forward to enhance habitat quality in a way to maximise species diversity and thus ensure the functioning of ecosystems; albeit large-scale factors also remain important.
Advisors:Baur, Bruno and Willi, Yvonne
Faculties and Departments:05 Faculty of Science > Departement Umweltwissenschaften > Integrative Biologie > Naturschutzbiologie (Baur)
UniBasel Contributors:Baur, Bruno and Willi, Yvonne
Item Type:Thesis
Thesis Subtype:Doctoral Thesis
Thesis no:13261
Thesis status:Complete
Bibsysno:Link to catalogue
Number of Pages:1 Online-Ressource (144 Seiten)
Language:English
Identification Number:
Last Modified:07 Jan 2020 05:30
Deposited On:06 Jan 2020 16:02

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