In Pursuit of Urban Sustainability: Predicting Public Perceptions of Park Biodiversity Using Simple Assessment Tools

  • M. F. SchebellaEmail author
  • D. Weber
  • L. Schultz
  • P. Weinstein
Research paper


In the face of ongoing global species loss, it is vital that urban societies see the value of biodiversity. However, practical strategies to enhance society’s appreciation of biodiversity are limited by the disparity that exists between public perceptions and expert assessments of biodiversity. To enhance our understanding of this disparity, and to provide insight into the visual cues that influence laypeople’s perceptions of biodiversity, four novel non-expert-dependent assessment tools—along with estimates of vegetation cover and bird species richness—were used to examine the attributes of 134 Australian urban parks. Ordinal regression modelling was used to explore the ability of these tools to predict perceptions of biodiversity and naturalness collected via a public questionnaire that yielded 1894 individual green space perception responses from 840 individuals. Despite researchers theorising otherwise, changes in structural variation were too subtle to significantly influence perceptions. Vegetation cover, habitat diversity, and a proposed Urban Park Naturalness Index (UPNI) were the strongest predictors of perceived biodiversity, explaining 31% of respondent perceptions. Bird species richness significantly influenced perceptions of naturalness but not biodiversity. Despite a relatively weak correlation between perceptions and objective measures (Nagelkerke R-squared = 0.307), we demonstrate how subtle changes in assessed attributes significantly affect predicted perceptions of the environment. For example, every additional habitat type within a park increases the odds of it being in a higher perceived biodiversity category by 31.7%. We suggest further development of simple assessment tools, such as the UPNI, that provide valuable insights into human responses to nature, and can aid the sustainable design and management of urban green space.

Article Highlights

  • Multiple on-site assessment tools developed and used in 134 urban parks to measure green space attributes, and compared with perceptions of 840 urban respondents.

  • Vegetation cover, UPNI, and habitat diversity were the best predictors of laypeople’s biodiversity perceptions.

  • Weak relationship between perceived biodiversity and presence of anthropic elements, suggesting conservation and recreation can be successfully balanced.

  • Subtle changes to certain park attributes significantly influence perceptions, e.g. one additional habitat increases the odds of a park being in a higher “perceived biodiversity” category by 31.7%

  • Provides insight into the visual cues that influence perceptions of biodiversity, with implications for urban green space design and management.


Biodiversity Green space Naturalness Perceptions Species richness Urban parks 



The authors wish to thank the respondents who participated in this study. This project was funded by a PhD scholarship from the University of South Australia.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

41742_2019_200_MOESM1_ESM.docx (753 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 752 kb)


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Copyright information

© University of Tehran 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Natural and Built Environments Research Centre, University of South AustraliaMawson LakesAustralia
  2. 2.School of Information Technology and Mathematical SciencesUniversity of South AustraliaAdelaideAustralia
  3. 3.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia

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