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Backyard biodiversity

Researchers behind a two-year study of biodiversity in urban backyards say many surprises lurked at the bottom of the garden, for respondents and academics alike.

Professor Katharine Dickinson (Botany), Dr Yolanda van Heezik (Zoology), Associate Professor Claire Freeman (Geography), Dr Barbara Barratt (Botany/AgResearch) and research assistant Stefan Porter, analysed information on fauna and flora in 55 gardens across 30 Dunedin suburbs.

The research attempted to improve knowledge and understand the gardening behaviour of householders in relation to improving native biodiversity and environmentally-friendly practices.

A two-way communication process between researchers and respondents stimulated a shift in attitude that resulted in improvements in native-friendly gardening practices.

All households reported they used research feedback to make some change in their gardens, with 16 per cent planting to make yards more diverse and one homeowner replacing lawn with native shrubs.

Dickinson says one of the most rewarding aspects of the project was the collaboration between natural and social scientists.

“It was a learning experience for us because we found so many aspects beyond measuring plants, animals and invertebrates that related to how householders' perceptions of their gardens changed if they were better informed.”

The research will underpin engagement with urban-planners to encourage increased planting and diversity when developing subdivisions. Van Heezik plans to prepare a submission for an upcoming Dunedin City Council plan relating to “infill”, or subsequent subdivision of existing properties.

“Overwhelmingly, reducing vegetative space could lead to whole suburbs with very little diversity and there needs to be discussion on that and the connection between nature and well-being.”

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