Wealth and urbanization shape medium and large terrestrial mammal communities

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Global Change Biology


Urban biodiversity provides critical ecosystem services and is a key component to environmentally and socially sustainable cities. However, biodiversity varies greatly within and among cities, leading to human communities with changing and unequal experiences with nature. The “luxury effect,” a hypothesis that predicts a positive correlation between wealth, typically measured by per capita income, and species richness may be one indication of these inequities. While the luxury effect is well studied for some taxa, it has rarely been investigated for mammals, which provide unique ecosystem services (e.g., biological pest control) and exhibit significant potential for negative human–wildlife interactions (e.g., nuisances or conflicts). We analyzed a large dataset of mammal detections across 20 North American cities to test whether the luxury effect is consistent for medium- to large-sized terrestrial mammals across diverse urban contexts. Overall, support for the luxury effect, as indicated by per capita income, was inconsistent; we found evidence of a luxury effect in approximately half of our study cities. Species richness was, however, highly and negatively correlated with urban intensity in most cities. We thus suggest that economic factors play an important role in shaping urban mammal communities for some cities and species, but that the strongest driver of urban mammal diversity is urban intensity. To better understand the complexity of urban ecosystems, ecologists and social scientists must consider the social and political factors that drive inequitable human experiences with nature in cities.

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