Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2019

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/29/2020

Degree Name

MA (Master of Arts)

Degree In


First Advisor

Sander, Heather A

First Committee Member

Tate, Eric

Second Committee Member

Laurian, Lucie


The human population is rapidly urbanizing, creating dramatic changes in local land use and land cover, unprecedented species loss, and a society increasingly disconnected from nature. Nature, specifically biodiversity, has been shown to provide benefits and enhance well-being to humans. Living in an environment with reduced opportunity to interact with or experience biodiversity has increasingly been recognized as both a public health and environmental issue, whereby separation from nature can negatively impact human well-being and how humans value nature, diminishing interest in and understanding of nature and its conservation. Because urban living reduces contact with nature, it is imperative to understand how urban residents perceive and benefit from urban nature to better manage urban biodiversity to both support human well-being and conservation efforts.

This study examines how urbanites perceive and benefit from two types of urban nature, trees and birds, by combining surveys of local residents with tree and bird data collected in two Midwestern agricultural cities, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, Iowa from neighborhoods of varying urban intensity. A residential survey was distributed to these neighborhoods during the summer of 2018 to assess resident perceptions of neighborhood biodiversity and its benefits. In general, residents were not able to assess relative levels of biodiversity compared to other neighborhoods, except in the case of high tree species richness. There was a strong relationship between perceived biodiversity and actual biodiversity, as well as reported knowledge of a given taxon, but only residential perceptions of biodiversity, not actual biodiversity, were strongly related to reported benefits. Respondent perceptions of the influence of trees on their well-being exhibited strong relationships with a person’s connection to trees. Reported influence of birds on well-being was strongly related to a person’s connection to trees, connection to birds, and landscaping practices to support wild species in their yards. Actual bird species richness was significantly negatively related to perceived influence of birds on well-being. Perceived nuisances associated with trees were significantly negatively related to perceived tree species richness, while a person’s connection to trees was strongly positively related to tree nuisances.

These results indicate that reported perceptions of the benefits from biodiversity are most heavily influenced by resident perceptions of biodiversity itself and orientation toward nature. This finding also implies that residents benefit from the presence of biodiversity, but that perceived benefits are only related to respondent perceptions of biodiversity, not to actual biodiversity. Further research is necessary to understand why and how this paradox occurs, yet this study provides reason to support efforts to increase knowledge of species as well as provide biodiverse environments that create opportunities for interaction with urban nature. Providing both would strengthen urban resident well-being and support biodiversity and conservation initiatives within cities.


biodiversity, connection to nature, ecosystem services, human-wildlife interactions, species richness, urban ecology


x, 103 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 96-103).


Copyright © 2019 Brianna J. Zumhof

Included in

Geography Commons