" BES Project Abstracts 2005
Institute of Ecosystem Studies

2005 BES Annual Meeting Presentation and Poster Abstracts

The ecological and aesthetic functions of urban detritus

Abstract: In ecological parlance, detritus is dead organic matter which, in terrestrial ecosystems, generally accumulates on the soil. Detritus layers have important ecological consequences such as providing food for detrital organisms and preventing soil erosion. Changes to the detritus layer have been shown in previous research to alter detrital communities, soil properties and ecosystem functions in many ecosystems. However, the ecology of detritus in urban ecosystems has not been widely investigated. A unique aspect of urban detritus is its management by humans for gardening, recreation and to fulfill aesthetic needs for landscape cleanliness. In this presentation, I will discuss 1) the ecological consequences of different urban detritus layers, 2) how aesthetic preferences for neat and clean looking landscapes influence the removal and application of detritus and 3) how management of urban detritus contributes to the generation of heterogeneity in the urban landscape. Data about the ecological consequences of common urban detritus were gathered from a field experiment in which plots of four urban habitats were created (lawns, unmowed vegetation, shredded-bark mulch and gravel mulch) and soil physical, chemical and biological variables and ecosystem processed were measured within them. Most variables examined differed among the habitats as a result of differences in the quality and quantity of the detritus layer. Aesthetic norms that influence the management of detritus in urban landscapes need to be studied further to understand why people manage detritus as they do. Such information will be a useful focus for integrating the sociocultural and ecological dimensions of urban ecology.