Research: Linking Socioeconomic Inequality and Biodiversity in the World’s Cities

Context: In city after city, researchers have noticed that wealthier areas often support a greater diversity of plant and animal species (“biodiversity”) compared to poorer areas. There is even a name for this pattern, “The Luxury Effect,” which suggests that high socioeconomic status (“SES” – in the form of wealth or political power, for example) buys resources such as land, time, and labor, which can be used to increase local biodiversity.

A slide from my thesis defense. The graph is from a study in Phoenix, AZ and shows that in wealthier neighborhoods there is higher bird diversity. Researchers have noticed these patterns for other organisms and cities.
Figure adapted from Kinzig et al. 2005. The effects of human socioeconomic status and cultural characteristics on urban patterns of biodiversity. Ecology & Society 10(1):23.

Interestingly, this pattern does not occur in every city. What’s going on? How and why do patterns differ between cities and what can we learn from these differences?

Action: As part of the UrBioNet Social-ecological Linkages working group, we found 84 case studies from 34 cities in which researchers assessed SES-biodiversity relationships. We used fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis (fsQCA) to evaluate combinations of factors that explain why these relationships vary city to city.

Result: While most cases showed positive SES-biodiversity relationships, we identified circumstances in which inequality in biodiversity was reduced through certain urban designs and social policies. In publishing and communicating our findings we hope to provide a framework for future researchers and city planners to use to ensure that everyone in the city has access to biodiversity.

Check out the links below to learn more:

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