Urban ecology study shows how large ecological benefits may be derived from investing in small greening actions

An exciting new study set in inner-city Melbourne has been published by the British Ecological Society’s Ecological Solutions and Evidence journal demonstrating how large ecological changes may be derived from investing in small greening actions and the value of these initiatives for indigenous insects.

Over four years, a dedicated team of researchers documented how changes to a small urban greenspace located amongst major roads and multistorey buildings led to substantial  positive ecological changes in insect species richness and function.

This study was led by Cesar Australia researcher Dr Luis Mata in collaboration with fellow Cesar Australia researcher Dr Samantha Ward and researchers from the University of Melbourne, RMIT University, University of Technology Sydney, Deakin University, Federation University, and the University of Tasmania. The team spearheaded this study to provide evidence on how re-invigorating existing greenspaces with indigenous plants can contribute to bring indigenous insect species back to areas in our cities where they have become rare or been extirpated by urbanisation.

From a lawn to a rich indigenous plant community

The study was conducted at the Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner memorial, which in April of 2016 was substantially transformed by the City of Melbourne.

These efforts meant that the greenspace accommodated 12 new locally indigenous plant species, including tussock grasses, wildflowers and shrubs, beyond the lawn and tree species present at the site before it was changed.

The team undertook 14 insect surveys across four years—four of these undertaken before the greening actions in 2016 to establish baseline data. Surveys were conducted across two southern hemisphere seasons (summer and autumn) between late-January and early-April each year. 

Powerful evidence for urban greening

The research team identified 94 insect species in total. Amongst these species, 91 were indigenous to Victoria. After only three years, the site supported over seven times more indigenous insect species than those originally present before the site was changed.

The study findings provide critical evidence to support the urban greening movement to enrich cities with indigenous plants and insects. These initiatives provide benefits for local species but also improve the health and wellbeing of people living in urban environments.

 “Providing the evidence that greening is actually working is critical. I think we’re starting to see some good greening outcomes that are being captured in policy, at least in principle”

 “This could help provide the evidence that … no matter how small your greening action, you’re going to derive a good positive ecological outcome.”

– Lead author, Dr Luis Mata.


The authors of the study acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land and waterways on which the project took place and where they work and live, the Wurundjeri and Bunurong people of the Kulin Nations, and the muwinina people of lutruwita (Tasmania), the Country of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner. They pay respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging, and honour their deep spiritual, cultural and customary connections to the land. They would like to extend their heartfelt thanks Zena Cumpston, Maddison Miller and Jade Kennedy for sharing with their passion and knowledge of Australian Indigenous culture and for helping the team recognise and appreciate the cultural significance of indigenous plant species. The authors would also like to sincerely thank Yvonne Lynch, Lingna Zhang and Ian Shears at the City of Melbourne for providing access to and data on the Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner memorial site.

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