Friesner Herbarium

Keep Indianapolis Beautiful


Ecological Value of Urban Habitat Modification


The emerging field of urban ecology seeks to explore, document and understand the functioning of ecosystems in intimate association with humans and the built environment. To date, most ecological studies have been conducted in natural lands. The degree to which theories based on these studies will apply in urban environments is not known. Cities have different disturbance regimes, altered resource availability, distinct soils and biogeochemistry, and a higher proportion of introduced species, distinguishing urban habitats from more natural sites. Urbanization creates habitat loss directly through conversion during development. It also degrades habitat incrementally through time via fragmentation and isolation of remnants. Despite these challenges, urban green spaces can be important refuges for native biodiversity. Significantly, now that more than half of the world's people live in cities, it is in just these places that most people's contact with nature will occur.


Our objective in cooperative studies with KIB is to document changes in plant and animal species presence and abundance associated with urban habitat conversion projects in Indianapolis. One project is native plant I-70 native plant installations along I70 exits in the city from the airport to downtown. A second project is ecological restoration along Fall Creek, including removal of invasive Asian bush honeysuckle. Both of these projects, sponsored by Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (KIB) ( and the Eli Lilly Global Day of Service, resulted in habitat modification that, along with the goal of beautification, sought to increase presence of desirable plants and animals to increase biodiversity in the city. We gathered baseline data on the ecological condition, as indicated by the plants and animals present, before the projects started. We hypothesize that these projects have created habitat that will increase species diversity and numbers of desirable native flora and fauna over time as the native plantings establish. We are collecting follow up data to see how the sites have changed. Using our data, we will be able to document starting conditions and monitor changes in species composition through time.