Biodiversity Wednesday: The Green Spaces of New York

Biodiversity matters, even in the heart of one of America’s largest cities. New York City is possibly one of the most altered environments in which humans live. Even here, among the towering buildings of the concrete jungle, there are green spaces, and in these green spaces, biodiversity thrives.

The New York City Metropolitan Area span 41,000 square kilometers and has a population of more than 20 million people.  Attempts have been made over the last century to create a network of green spaces throughout the area. During this development, focus on the ecology of these greenspaces was not the focus of urban planners. Despite this oversite, urban green space became havens for ecologic diversity and provide many important ecosystem services, such as providing refuge for threatened species, increasing biodiversity, and creating habitat for endemic flora and fauna. They also provide many social and health benefits to the people that live near or interact with these green spaces.

Among the most prominent green spaces in New York City is Central Park. Ironically, the park’s location, surrounded by concrete and steel, created a barrier to the Dutch Elms Disease which plagued the American Elms. Central Park currently houses one of the largest stands of American Elms in their native range.

The park also serves as a flyway for migratory bird species, including the red-tailed hawk, providing much needed habitat as they travel further north or south. Raccoons, eastern gray squirrels, oppossums, and chipmunk are also native to Central Park. New species are infrequently discovered withing the park’s borders, including a new dwarf centipede described in 2003. Nannarrup hoffmani is still among the smallest centipedes in the world, and is only known to occur in Central Park.