Yards increase forest connectivity in urban landscapes

  • Alessandro OssolaEmail author
  • Dexter Locke
  • Brenda Lin
  • Emily Minor
Research Article



Tree canopy connectivity is important for supporting biodiversity. In urban landscapes, empirical examinations of habitat connectivity often overlook residential land, though yards and gardens often comprise a large portion of urban forests.


We quantify structural composition (patches and paths), connectivity and fragmentation of an entire tree canopy network spanning 1220 Boston’s neighborhoods to assess the configuration of the urban forest potentially affecting tree-dependent wildlife species, such as some birds and arboreal mammals.


The urban landscape was classified by land use, and residential yards were further subdivided into front yards, backyards, and corner yards. Structural composition, connectivity and fragmentation of the tree canopy was assessed using morphological spatial pattern and network analysis. Canopy metrics were then related to the land use of 349,305 property parcels.


Back yard tree canopy cover was 65.23%. The majority of canopy links were on residential land (60.95% total), and particularly in backyards. Back yards contained the highest number of canopy fragments (48.65% total). Fragmentation of the canopy network peaked at ~ 23% of total canopy cover. Canopy fragmentation, distance among patches and their shape complexity were lower in neighborhoods with more tree canopy.


The important role that yards have in sustaining canopy connectivity across urban landscapes poses challenges and opportunities. Urban land management and planning need to protect connectivity links within urban forests when located on private residential realm. A prioritization strategy aimed at expanding urban tree cover could focus on yards to ensure that urban landscape connectivity is maintained and increased.


Urban forest Fragmentation Urban habitat Trees Landscape structure Socio-ecological systems 



Authors kindly acknowledge MASS-GIS and the City of Boston for providing geospatial datasets. The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) under funding received from the National Science Foundation DBI-1052875 supported this work. Findings and conclusions in this publication are those of the Authors and should not be construed to represent any official USDA or US Government determination or policy. The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Supplementary material

10980_2019_923_MOESM1_ESM.docx (4.9 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 5038 kb)


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Copyright information

© This is a U.S. government work and its text is not subject to copyright protection in the United States; however, its text may be subject to foreign copyright protection 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological Sciences, Centre for Smart Green CitiesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC)AnnapolisUSA
  3. 3.USDA Forestry Service, Northern Research Station, Baltimore Field StationBaltimoreUSA
  4. 4.CSIRO Land and Water FlagshipDutton ParkAustralia
  5. 5.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Illinois ChicagoChicagoUSA

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