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In: Ecosystems, Vol. 11, 2008.


Understanding of ecological differences among urban land covers can guide the sustainable management of urbanized landscapes for conservation of ecosystem services. The objective of our study was to compare ecosystem properties at the aboveground–belowground interface of three land cover types commonly found in residential landscapes: lawns, bark mulch, and gravel mulch. Using unmowed vegetation as a reference land cover, we measured surface soil variables (to 5 cm depth), CO2 fluxes, and ground temperatures in experimental field plots within 3 years after their creation. Each land cover had a distinctive set of ecosystem properties. Mulched plots had significantly warmer soil and surface temperatures, wetter soils and faster surface litter decomposition than vegetated plots. Variables associated with soil C and earthworm numbers were consistently lowest in gravel-covered soils, whereas bark mulch plots had highest earthworm abundances, lowest soil bulk density, and temporally variable soil organic matter dynamics. Compared to unmowed plots, lawns had higher soil carbon, CO2 fluxes, and temperatures but lower earthworm abundances especially during 2005 drought conditions. We conclude that ecosystem properties of the land covers were influenced by the composition, density, and arrangement of materials comprising their aboveground habitat structures. We discuss our results within an ecosystem services framework and suggest that interpretations of our findings depend on in situ urban environmental contexts and landscape management objectives. Future studies of urban land covers, their ecosystem properties and associated ecosystem services are needed to help provide a scientific basis for sustainable urban landscape management.