Habitat Complexity

Image credits: Jeffrey Eisen, Unsplash

Habitat complexity can be enhanced at multiple scales in the landscape. Here we focus on three categories: habitat diversity includes diversity of habitat types across a landscape, structural complexity refers to the variety of vegetation types and structural heights at a site, and plant diversity relates to the richness and distribution of species and functional roles in plant communities at that site.

Biodiversity role:

Habitat complexity within patches is key to creating quality habitat. Increasing vegetation diversity and complexity enhances species diversity in small greenspaces. Different habitats and vegetation types provide different resources, which supports overall biodiversity.

Human health role:

Habitat complexity in urban greenspaces provides many health benefits including supporting well-being, inducing positive emotions, limiting spread of diseases, and protecting against asthma.

Key tensions and tradeoffs:

Less connected patches with low structural complexity are often unfavorable for biodiversity. However, creating openings between patches and limiting dense understory is likely to increase a sense of safety and align with landscape design expectations. Lawns and open areas similarly have low habitat complexity but encourage physical activity and social interaction.

Habitat Diversity

Include a variety of locally appropriate habitat types throughout the urban landscape. Habitat diversity supports species diversity and induces positive emotions. Create multiple habitat zones, and restore and conserve rare habitat types.

Structural Complexity

Varied vegetation layers allow a single habitat type to provide food, cover, and shelter for a variety of different species. In urban areas structural complexity is associated with higher species richness. Varied vegetation structure is tied to stress reduction and improved mood, and supports children's adventure play.

Plant Diversity

Greater native plant diversity supports more species in urban greenspaces. Plant diversity supports psychological wellbeing and has respiratory benefits. Choose native plants that provide year round bloom and a variety of host-specific plant species.

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