Ecological homogenization of urban America

a research project funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation program on “MacroSystems Biology: Research on Biological Systems at Regional to Continental Scales.”

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What City is This?

One of the pictures below is of a neighborhood in Boston, the other is a neighborhood in Phoenix. Which is which? Why do they look so similar? What are the effects of this “urban homogenization” on air and water quality and biodiversity in these neighborhoods and in the U.S. as a whole? What are the effects of this homogenization on the quality of life for people living in these neighborhoods and in the U.S. as a whole?


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The neighborhood on the left is in Boston, the one on the right is in Phoenix.

Can we come sample in your yard?

If you participated in our telephone survey and said that you were willing to let us come sample in our yard, here is what we would like to do:

1. Come talk with you for about 45 minutes about how you take care of your yard and why.

2. Following this initial visit, we will make several additional visits to your yard for different types of measurements of plants and soils. This need not take any of your time and you don’t have to be home for these visits. We only need your permission to be on your property, which you can give us when we come and talk with you. If you prefer, we can schedule times to visit when you are home.

The types of measurements we will make are as follows:

a. Identify and map all the plants that grow in your yard. This activity will occur with a team of two to four people, taking anywhere from two to eight hours depending on the size of your property and the different types of plants.

b. Take two soil samples by digging narrow holes (about the size of a quarter and down to three feet – see photo). This activity will take a team of two people about one hour. We will, of course, fill in the hole with fresh soil after we take the sample. We will contact any necessary utilities ahead of time, so there may be temporary utility markers installed prior to our visit.

soil sample

c. Monitor the air temperature, humidity and soil water content in your yard using small weather stations. We would bury the cable for the soil water sensor just under the grass by cutting a narrow slit in the turf, which we would then cover up. The cable would be connected to a small box that we would place in an out-of-sight area. We would also put a small air temperature-humidity sensor (measuring the size of a quarter) in an out-of-sight place in your yard. We would visit your yard every few months for about 15 minutes at a time to gather information from the weather stations. We only need to install these small weather stations in a few yards, so if you are not comfortable with this part of the study, you could still participate in the other parts.

After we are done, we’ll give you a report on the plant biodiversity, soil conditions and “microclimate” in your yard as well as some early information we learn from the study.

Project details...

Find the project coordinator for your city

Feel free to contact the project coordinator for your city if you have questions.

Baltimore: Peter Groffman
Phone: 845 677-7600 x128

Boston: Chris Neill
Phone:508 289 7481

Los Angeles: Diane Pataki

Miami: Laura Ogden
Phone: 305 348 6663 

Minneapolis/St. Paul: Sarah Hobbie

Phoenix: Kelli Larson

Project Partners

arizonansf logoclarkdukeflorida UuciNSF