Paper Critique: The Effects of Human Socioeconomic Status and Cultural Characteristics on Urban Patterns of Biodiversity

Kinzig, A. P., Warren, P., Martin, C., Hope, D., & Katti, M. (2005). The Effects of Human Socioeconomic Status and Cultural Characteristics on Urban Patterns of Biodiversity. Ecology and Society, 10(1).

Kinzig et al. (2005) are a collaborative group of authors that have published extensively on topics including biodiversity, archaeology, ecosystem management, and geographical urbanization. The general focus of the work produced by the authors includes urban ecology and the interaction of human settlements with ecological systems. The paper has been cited close to 500 times. Overall, it forms the foundation for many of the later works of the authors. The paper also formed the foundation of later investigations into gardens as socio-ecological systems that can influence urban biodiversity (Goddard et al., 2010).

The research presented by Kinzig et al. (2005, p. 1) indicates “that there can be substantial variation in species richness in residential areas differing in their socioeconomic and cultural characteristics.” Through an analysis of urban-to-rural gradient measures in metrics associated with the distance between urban population centres and the edges of the human environment, the authors argue that ecological outcomes which impact human quality of life can be examined both for the development of urban conservation strategies and in urban planning. The prime thesis associated with the paper is that human urban environments are altering the nature of global ecological patterns and will significantly impact sustainability and future quality of life.

The research analyses urban patterns of biodiversity using a gradient approach. This process involves measuring land use as it applies at different distances from an urban centre with high rates of human population density. The conceptual framework employed by the authors is premised on the theory that “not all patterns of urban biodiversity should be equally affected by the socioeconomic or cultural status of the human residents” (2005, p. 2). Consequently, biodiversity patterns will differ in sensitivity when exposed to diverse socio-economic or cultural traits. The assumptions, such as perennial plant diversity being controlled primarily through top-down processes, may be contended (Graetz & Smith, 2010) with different urban planning strategies deployed across different regions. Yet, other researchers noted how both bottom-up and top-down controls of plant biodiversity occur (Walker et al., 2009), and hence an assumption that all approaches are top-down would need to be further justified in the study.

This research argues that the bottom-up approach is more likely to impact neighbourhood plant diversity and that it significantly differs from plant diversity in parks. The finding that socioeconomic and cultural gradients are very weak in top-down practice may not necessarily be supported in all forms of urban environments. The research was conducted in Phoenix, Arizona. This region is unlikely to be generalizable against other urban regions, even within the United States (Guhathakurta & Cao, 2011). As such, the findings related to the distribution of neighbourhood parks and more localized plant diversity may not apply to areas outside of Arizona.

The authors tested two primary propositions. Firstly, separate human groups will interact differently across different urban settings, and socio-economic variables will improve the predictability of urban biodiversity patterns. Next, adding socio-economic variables, which are associated with avian diversity and the diversity of animal life, will be more significant in measuring plant diversity across neighborhoods. The results returned from the test were significant when measuring neighbourhood plant species and the numbers of bird species in parks, and were not significant when measuring plant species in parks.

A finding returned by the research demonstrates that “residents of lower socio-economic status are thus simply less likely to be able to enjoy diverse plant and bird communities” (Kinzig et al., 2005, p. 9). Yet, the distribution of high- and low-income neighborhood parks demonstrates that it would be feasible for individuals in lower socio-economic groups to visit such regions, if of interest. Other investigations, such as those involving the facilities at parks, may also influence the results. For example, some parks may have sporting facilities rather than trees. While sporting facilities with open grounds may have less diversity and fewer bird species, the urban environment in the region may call for open grounds more than those with trees.

While the paper has comprehensively analyzed a selected region, the extension of such research into explaining biodiversity in areas outside of Phoenix is unwarranted. The authors provide an interesting discussion of plant and bird diversity in such regions, but documenting the environment in each of the parks in the regions would add more value. It would especially so be the case if it could be shown that not all types of parks are equal, and an analysis of such regions may demonstrate significant factors outside of income brackets that impact biodiversity more than the test factor used by the authors.


Goddard, M. A., Dougill, A. J., & Benton, T. G. (2010). Scaling up from gardens: Biodiversity conservation in urban environments. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 25(2), 90–98.

Graetz, F., & Smith, A. C. T. (2010). Managing Organizational Change: A Philosophies of Change Approach. Journal of Change Management, 10(2), 135–154.

Guhathakurta, S., & Cao, Y. (2011). Variations in Objective Quality of Urban Life Across a City Region: The Case of Phoenix. In R. W. Marans & R. J. Stimson (Eds.), Investigating Quality of Urban Life: Theory, Methods, and Empirical Research (pp. 135–160). Springer Netherlands.

Kinzig, A. P., Warren, P., Martin, C., Hope, D., & Katti, M. (2005). The Effects of Human Socioeconomic Status and Cultural Characteristics on Urban Patterns of Biodiversity. Ecology and Society, 10(1).

Walker, J. S., Grimm, N. B., Briggs, J. M., Gries, C., & Dugan, L. (2009). Effects of urbanization on plant species diversity in central Arizona. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7(9), 465–470.

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