Residential yards reflect social status whereby neat and tidy yards indicate adherence to neighborhood expectations of promoting a well-maintained landscape. However, yard maintenance can be constrained by economic limitations and social factors such as foreclosures, which in turn affects urban biota. We ask: (1) Do arthropod communities in residential yards respond to habitat change caused by economic disturbances? (2) How are residents’ perceptions of yard maintenance and foreclosures associated with actual foreclosure rates relative to other social and landscaping factors? (3) How are interactions between economic disturbances and slower-cycling processes, such as social stratification and landscaping characteristics, related to shifts in the arthropod community over time? To examine how the arthropod community changed in response to economic disturbance during the Great Recession, we connected arthropod, vegetation, and social data from 2005-2006 and 2010-2011 collected throughout 29 neighborhoods in Phoenix, Arizona. We used Nonmetric Multidimensional Scaling to examine changes in the arthropod community over time and linear regression to test how urban residents perceive and maintain habitat structure in residential yards following an economic recession. Finally, we used Structural Equation Modeling to determine the direct and indirect effects of economic disturbance, social stratification, and landscape design on urban arthropods.
We found that both arthropod diversity and abundance decreased over time and that there was a shift in the community to taxa that were associated with weedy neighborhoods and neighborhoods with a higher number of foreclosures. The ordination analysis showed that plant species richness, plant abundance, income, and house age were all important for structuring the arthropod community over time. Linear regression models illustrated potential dichotomies between the yard preferences of urban residents and ecosystem functioning. Residents held positive perceptions of yards that represented the traditional lawn aesthetic; however, habitat homogenization caused by residential lawns was also related to more homogenous arthropod communities that were largely dominated by species considered to be garden pests. The relationships between human perceptions and yard structure are important because residents can directly modify their surrounding habitat, which in turn affects species composition of urban wildlife communities. The causal diagram that we developed to describe the complexities of the system linked foreclosure and social stratification to habitat structure in residential yards, which in turn predicted arthropod community outcomes. Overall, our research increases understanding of the complex linkages in socio-ecological systems and connects economic and social processes to ecological outcomes.