Flower power in the city: Replacing roadside shrubs by wildflower meadows increases insect numbers and reduces maintenance costs

PLoS One. 2020 Jun 9;15(6):e0234327. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0234327. eCollection 2020.


Massive declines in insect biodiversity and biomass are reported from many regions and habitats. In urban areas, creation of native wildflower meadows is one option to support insects and reduce maintenance costs of urban green spaces. However, benefits for insect conservation may depend on previous land use, and the size and location of new wildflower meadows. We show effects of conversion of roadside plantings-from exotic shrubs into wildflower meadows-on (1) the abundance of 13 arthropod taxa-Opiliones, Araneae, Isopoda, Collembola, Orthoptera, Aphidoidea, Auchenorrhyncha, Heteroptera, Coleoptera, Nematocera, Brachycera, Apocrita, Formicidae-and (2) changes in maintenance costs. We assessed the influence of vegetation type (meadow vs. woody), meadow age, size, location (distance to city boundary), and mowing regime. We found many, but not all, arthropod taxa profiting from meadows in terms of arthropod activity abundance in pitfall traps and arthropod density in standardized suction samples. Arthropod number in meadows was 212% higher in pitfall traps and 260% higher in suction samples compared to woody vegetation. The increased arthropod number in meadows was independent of the size and isolation of green spaces for most taxa. However, mowing regime strongly affected several arthropod taxa, with an increase of 63% of total arthropod density in unmown compared to mown meadow spots. Costs of green space maintenance were fivefold lower for meadows than for woody vegetation. Our study shows that (1) many different arthropod taxa occur in roadside vegetation in urban areas, (2) replacement of exotic woody vegetation by native wildflower meadows can significantly increase arthropod abundance, especially if meadow management permits temporarily unmown areas, and (3) maintenance costs can be considerably reduced by converting woody plantings into wildflower meadows. Considering many groups of arthropods, our study provides new insights into possible measures to support arthropods in urban environments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Biomass
  • Cities
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / economics*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Ecosystem
  • Environment
  • Insecta / metabolism*
  • Introduced Species / economics
  • Magnoliopsida / growth & development
  • Plants
  • Soil
  • Soil Microbiology


  • Soil

Grant support

We acknowledge support by the German Research Foundation and the Open Access Publishing Fund of Technical University of Darmstadt.