Impact of native plants on bird and butterfly biodiversity in suburban landscapes

Conserv Biol. 2009 Feb;23(1):219-24. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.01076.x. Epub 2008 Sep 29.


Managed landscapes in which non-native ornamental plants are favored over native vegetation now dominate the United States, particularly east of the Mississippi River. We measured how landscaping with native plants affects the avian and lepidopteran communities on 6 pairs of suburban properties in southeastern Pennsylvania. One property in each pair was landscaped entirely with native plants and the other exhibited a more conventional suburban mixture of plants--a native canopy with non-native groundcover and shrubs. Vegetation sampling confirmed that total plant cover and plant diversity did not differ between treatments, but non-native plant cover was greater on the conventional sites and native plant cover was greater on the native sites. Several avian (abundance, species richness, biomass, and breeding-bird abundance) and larval lepidopteran (abundance and species richness) community parameters were measured from June 2006 to August 2006. Native properties supported significantly more caterpillars and caterpillar species and significantly greater bird abundance, diversity, species richness, biomass, and breeding pairs of native species. Of particular importance is that bird species of regional conservation concern were 8 times more abundant and significantly more diverse on native properties. In our study area, native landscaping positively influenced the avian and lepidopteran carrying capacity of suburbia and provided a mechanism for reducing biodiversity losses in human-dominated landscapes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity*
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Butterflies / physiology*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Larva / physiology
  • Pennsylvania
  • Plants*
  • Population Dynamics