Ranking of invasive spread through urban green areas in the world’s 100 most populous cities

19 December 2017

Urban landscapes are highly fragmented (leading to the extinction of native species) as well as transformed and disturbed (creating novel environments). Such conditions provide non-native species with opportunities to establish and spread through ‘‘urban green areas’’ (UGAs). UGAs can serve as stepping stones for many alien species to recruit and may become sources of propagules to launch invasions in adjoining natural ecosystems. There is great diversity in the spatial structures of UGAs worldwide; these are determined by the city’s level of development, human density, urban planning policy, and history. We explore the invasion risks of, and the potential of invasive spread in, UGAs in the world’s 100 most populous cities (in 40 countries). Based on maps of enhanced vegetation index at 250 m resolution over the extent of 25 by 25 km for each city centre, we simulate the invasion and spread of a reference species (a virtual ruderal invasive species) from the city centre into surrounding urban or rural areas. Doing so allowed us to provide an objective baseline for comparing urban susceptibility to such invasions across diverse cultures, histories and societies. We derive the global ranking of invasive spread potential for each city based on the rate of spread of the reference species, and the ranking of 40 countries, based on the average rate of spread in their cities. We explore correlates of spread rates after 100 time steps (years) by examining the roles of climate (mean annual temperature and rainfall), human demography (city population size and growth rate), and socio-economic indicators [human footprint, human development index and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita]. Small city population size and high GDP per capita are the only significant predictors of high potential for invasive spread. Among the G20 countries, Canada, South Korea, South Africa, France, USA and Brazil all feature in the top-10 countries, and Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and Dallas in the USA, Chittagong in Bangladesh, Toronto in Canada and Brasilia in Brazil are listed among the top 10 cities overall. Our results can serve as a global baseline assessment of invasive spread risks through UGAs, and call for improved protocols for monitoring, planning and management of UGAs.