In the US, between 1992 and 2010, more than 10.3 million hectares of wildlands were converted to residential lands (i.e., homes and surrounding landscapes), accounting for 40-50% of urban areas. A consequence of residential development is the removal, alteration and fragmentation of vegetation, ultimately having a negative impact on habitat, wildlife populations, biodiversity, and other critical ecosystem services. However, the green spaces embedded within the suburban matrix, particularly private yards, have the potential to mitigate some of the detrimental impacts of development such as providing wildlife habitat. Although these green spaces result in small fragments of non-cohesive parcels, collectively, they have the greatest potential for increasing and enhancing habitat in suburban areas. Thus, individual households, in particular, their associated management decisions, have a role to play in improving the capacity of private yards for supporting wildlife and other ecosystem services. This presentation identifies strategies for quantifying habitat quality and assessing landscape behaviors necessary for vibrant urban wildlife populations – both of paramount importance for conservation initiatives and policy.
Landscape designs and management decisions differ vastly throughout residential landscapes, and provide opportunities for testing whether certain designs or features might better support wildlife. I will present research that has demonstrated how wildlife has responded to this variation, highlighting native plant and native bird relationships, and lawn mowing frequency and bee abundance. I will also describe some of the conservation challenges for coordinated management within the lens of a ‘tyranny of small decisions’ and scale mismatches between habitat use (e.g., territory scale) and management (e.g., individual parcel scale). Improving habitat in private yards has implications for human well-being as well since this is where people have their primary interaction with the natural world. Increased exposure and participation in citizen science programs can further enforce the importance of conservation initiatives and policies aimed at improving habitat in our cities and suburbs.