Multiple effects of urbanization on the biodiversity of developing countries: The case of a fast-growing metropolitan area (Concepcion, Chile)
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Urbanization is increasingly homogenizing the biota of less developed countries. Even though urban sprawl is a worldwide problem, most studies on the effects of urbanization, and the conceptual models have focused on developed countries. South America has not escaped urbanization, and here we discuss the potential impacts of urban sprawl with respect to three ecosystems in the metropolitan area of Concepcion, Chile. We consider this area a good model and fairly representative of other cities in developing countries which are also experiencing rapid and uncontrolled growth. We found that the impacts of urban sprawl on biodiversity in the metropolitan area of Concepcion differ little from cities in other parts of the world: native ecosystems are replaced by pavements and buildings and what is left of the natural soil is covered with green areas dominated by non-native ornamental species. Wetlands and other peri-urban ecosystems are rapidly being destroyed, fragmented or invaded by non-native species. We found that from a study area of 32,000 ha, there was a net loss to urbanization of 1734 ha of wetlands (23% of the original) and 1417 ha (9%) of agricultural, forest and shrub land cover types between 1975 and 2000. From the total area urbanized (3151 ha), 55% corresponded to wetlands and 45% to agricultural, forest and shrub lands cover types. We see the lack of environmental awareness as a major cause of the increasing deterioration of biodiversity in urban areas of developing countries. More research is needed to fully understand the effects of urban sprawl on the biodiversity of developing countries to include these ecosystems in global conservation strategies.