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Floresta e Ambiente

Print version ISSN 1415-0980On-line version ISSN 2179-8087

Floresta Ambient. vol.26 no.3 Seropédica  2019  Epub July 01, 2019 

Original Article

Conservation of Nature

Composition and Functional Diversity of the Urban Flora of Alfenas-MG, Brazil

Nathalia Monalisa-Francisco1

Flavio Nunes Ramos1

1Programa de Pós-graduação em Ciências Ambientais, Instituto de Ciências da Natureza, Universidade Federal de Alfenas – UNIFAL, Alfenas/MG, Brasil


Urban tree cover has important environmental and social functions and can act as ecological refuges. The objective of the present study was to investigate the taxonomic and functional diversities of urban plant communities in Alfenas, Minas Gerais State, Brazil. We sampled all trees DBH ≥ 3 cm in eight different urban green areas, recording 1,138 individuals and 119 species; two species were dominant: Poincianella pluviosa (Fabaceae) and Syagrus romanzoffiana (Arecaceae). The high species richness encountered reflected, in part, the presence of exotic species, which corresponded to 40% of the species and 25% of the total abundance. The functional diversity index (HF') was considered low, with the predominant functional traits among the species being small size, entomophily, zoochory, evergreen leaves, and dry fruits. We recommend that future urban afforestation projects incorporate strategies that increase the use of regional species as well as the functional diversity/complexity of those environments.

Keywords:  functional diversity; green areas; regional species; urban ecology; urban trees


The global human population has increased approximately ten-fold in the last century. Urban areas currently occupy ca. 4% of the total earth surface (Töpfer et al., 2000), which considerably increases the importance of conserving biological communities in urban ecosystems. Green urban areas have significant potential to aid biodiversity conservation, provide diverse advantages to human populations (see Roy et al., 2012), contribute to the environmental quality of cities, and act as refuges for rich plant communities (Ordóñez & Duinker, 2012; Freitas et al., 2015).

Despite their potential as biodiversity refuges, urban green spaces tend to have quite peculiar floristic compositions. The presence of exotic species is a key factor determining diversity patterns in those ecosystems. They represent a substantial component of urban forests not only in Brazil but around the world (Aronson et al., 2007; Bigirimana et al., 2011; Kowarik, 2011; Kramer & Krupek, 2012). The ecological roles of exotic species remain controversial. Some evidence point to their undesirable effects on local plant communities (McKinney, 2006), while other evidence suggest their positive performance within the environmental balance of urban areas (Schlaepfer et al., 2011). There is no consensus on the use of exotic plants in urban afforestation, at the same time that the silvicultural potentials of regional native species have largely been neglected (Isernhagen et al., 2009).

Although studies of diversity patterns based on composition and natural occurrence are quite useful, functional diversity has been shown to be a promising approach for understanding ecological issues in anthropogenic habitats (Cornelissen et al., 2003; Duncan et al., 2011). The characteristics of a species, rather than its identity, will determine its contribution to ecosystem functioning (Díaz & Cabido, 2001; Knapp et al., 2010). The quantification and understanding of plant community characteristics and functions will allow more appropriate conservation and management decisions. Some researchers have investigated plant ecological attributes in urban ecosystems. They described phenomena such as the directional selection of specific traits (Aronson et al., 2007; Duncan et al., 2011) and functional redundancy along richness gradients (Knapp et al., 2008). Most studies on urban afforestation, however, have focused principally on taxonomic diversity (Cardoso-Leite et al., 2014; Freitas et al., 2015; Kramer & Krupek, 2012), with little emphasis on the functional diversity of those plant communities.

Since tropical forest physiognomies have been increasingly converted into anthropically altered environments, conservation strategies are urgently needed. They can help transform urban ecosystems into ecological refuges – and those transformations will require basic information about community functioning in those environments. The objective of this study was to investigate ecological patterns of plant communities in urban public green areas and describe aspects of their floristic compositions and functional and taxonomic diversities.


2.1. Study area and sampling

The present study was conducted in Alfenas (21°25’46” S; 45°56’50” W), Minas Gerais State, Brazil. The municipality covers 850 km2 and has approximately 74,000 inhabitants. The natural vegetation is Semideciduous Seasonal Atlantic Forest (Ibge, 2012), with dry winters and wet summers (Cwa type climate, Köppen 1948). The mean regional temperature ranges from 17.5 °C during the Austral winter to 21.1 °C in the summer, with a mean annual precipitation of 1500 mm (Alvares et al., 2014). Eight public green areas were chosen for study. Most of them lie within the urban perimeter of the municipality, except the Alfenas Municipal Park, located a few kilometers from the city (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Location of the eight green public areas studied in Alfenas, Minas Gerais State, Brazil. 

Those areas represent a significant percentage of the cultivated vegetation cover in the city, are easily accessed by the local population, and are commonly used for social activities. Each of those green areas was visited between 2011 and 2012. All trees with DAP ≥ 3 cm were mapped, photographed, and identified with the help of specialized bibliography and/or expert consultations.

2.2. Species classifications

The species were classified – using information available in the specialized scientific literature and/or expert consultations – according to their geographical origins and ecological characteristics.

    1. Geographical origin: regional native species occur naturally in the same phytophysiognomy of the study area (Semideciduous Seasonal Atlantic Forest); native species are those occurring in other Brazilian formations; and exotic species were those having no recorded natural occurrence in any Brazilian vegetation.

    2. Ecological attributes: were chosen the ecological attributes that represent important characteristics for the performance of ecosystem functions and contribution to environmental balance in cities, adapted from Cornelissen et al. (2003) and Duncan et al. (2011):

  • a) Tree size: small (≤ 12 m); medium (12-20 m); and tall (> 20 m).

    b) Pollination mode: anemophilous, ornithophilous, entomophilous, and chiropterophilous.

    c) Dispersal mode: autochoric, hydrochoric, anemochoric, and zoochoric.

    d) Leaf life span: deciduous or evergreen leaves.

    e) Fruit type: fleshy or dry fruits.

2.3. Statistical analysis

The general patterns of species diversity were described based on abundance, richness, and evenness. Evenness was calculated using the Pielou J’ index, whose values range from 0 to 1 reflecting the distribution uniformity of individuals within the species. The higher the J’ value, the more balanced is the community composition.

To describe community structures, we also investigated dominance patterns, classifying the species according to their total abundance as: a) rare (those with only 1 individual); b) few abundant (2-5 individuals); c) abundant (6-50 individuals); d) intermediate (51-100 individuals); and e) dominant (> 100 individuals).

To investigate the functional diversity patterns (DivF) we employed a functional diversity index adapted from Shannon & Weaver (H’) using the relative proportion of individuals (HF’ind) and species (HF'sp) within each group: HF’ = – ∑ pi*Ln(pi), where pi = the abundance or richness of the i-category.

We used analyses of variance to verify whether the mean proportions of individuals and species (after arcsine square root transformation) differed between ecological categories. The nonparametric equivalent tests (Mann-Whitney, Kruskal-Wallis) were used with data that could not be corrected by transformations in terms of the normality and homogeneity of variances. The level of significance considered was 5%.


We surveyed 1,138 individuals belonging to 119 species, 101 genera, and 43 families. The most representative family was Fabaceae (19 species and 290 individuals). The five most abundant species were Poincianella pluviosa var. Peltophoroides (Benth.) L.P. Queiroz (237 ind), Syagrus romanzoffiana (Cham.) Glassman (122 ind), Handroanthus impetiginosus (Martius ex. DC.) Mattos (72 ind), Ficus benjamina L. (59 ind), and Pleroma granulosum (Desr.) D. Don (55 ind). Together these species accounted for 48% of the total abundance (Table 1).

Table 1 Information about the urban flora in Alfenas, Minas Gerais State, Brazil. 

Family Species Total Ori Size Pol Dis Leaf Fru
ANACARDIACEAE Lithraea molleoides (Vell.) Engl. 2 N Sma Ent Zoo Eve Dry
Mangifera indica L. 11 E Tall Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Schinus molle L. 53 N Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Schinus terebinthifolia Raddi 1 R Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Tapirira guianensis Aubl. 1 R Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
ANONNACEAE Annona cacans Warm. 1 R Med Ent Zoo NI Fle
APOCYNACEAE Nerium oleander L. 3 N Sma Ent Ane Eve Dry
Plumeria pudica Jacq. 2 E Sma NI Ane Eve Dry
ARALIACEAE Aralia rex (Ekman) J.Wen 4 E NI NI Zoo NI Fle
Dendropanax cuneatus (DC.) Decne. & Planch. 1 R Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Schefflera actinophylla (Endl.) Harms 2 N Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Schefflera arboricola (Hayata) Merr. 2 E Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
ARAUCARIACEAE Araucaria angustifolia (Bertol.) Kuntze 11 N Tall Ane Zoo Eve Dry
ARECACEAE Archontophoenix cunninghamii H. Wendl. & Drude 7 E Med Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Caryota mitis Lour. 11 E Med NI Zoo Eve Fle
Cocos nucifera L. 2 N Med Ent Hyd Eve Dry
Dypsis decaryi (Jum.) Beentje & J.Dransf. 2 E Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Dypsis lutescens (H.Wendl.) Beentje & J.Dransf. 10 E Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Euterpe edulis Mart. 2 R Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Geonoma schottiana Mart. 1 R Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Livistona chinensis (Jacq.) R.Br. ex Mart. 21 E Med Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Phoenix roebelenii O'Brien 16 E Sma NI Zoo Eve Fle
Roystonea borinquena O.F Cook 27 E Sma NI Zoo Eve Fle
Syagrus romanzoffiana (Cham.) Glassman 122 R Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
ASPARAGACEAE Yucca gigantea Lem. 9 E Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
ASTERACEAE Baccharis dracunculifolia DC. 1 R Sma Ent Ane Eve Dry
BIGNONIACEAE Handroanthus chrysotrichus (Mart. ex DC.) Mattos 10 N Sma Ent Ane Dec Dry
Handroanthus impetiginosus (Martius ex. DC.) Mattos 72 N Sma Ent Ane Dec Dry
Handroanthus serratifolius (Vahl) S.Grose 6 R Med Ent Ane Dec Dry
Handroanthus sp. 2 NI Sma Ent Ane Dec Dry
Jacaranda mimosifolia D.Don 1 E Med Ent Ane Dec Dry
Spathodea campanulata P.Beauv. 6 E Med Orn Ane Eve Dry
Tabebuia roseoalba (Ridl.) Sandwith 2 R Sma Ent Ane Dec Dry
Tecoma stans (L.) Juss. ex Kunth 3 N Sma Ent Ane Eve Dry
BORAGINACEAE Cordia africana Lam. 2 E Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Cordia superba Cham. 1 N Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
CASUARINACEAE Casuarina equisetifolia L. 1 E Tall Ent Zoo Eve Dry
CHRYSOBALANACEAE Licania tomentosa (Benth.) Fritsch 4 N Sma Ane Zoo Eve Fle
COMBRETACEAE Terminalia catappa L. 3 N Tall Ane Zoo Dec Dry
CUPRESSACEAE Callitris preissii Miq. 2 E Med Orn NI Eve Dry
Cupressus funebris Endl. 3 E Tall Ane Ane Eve Dry
Cupressus lusitanica Mill. 52 E Tall Orn Ane Eve Dry
Cupressus sempervirens L. 14 E Tall Orn Ane Eve Dry
Thuja occidentalis L. 1 E Med Ane Ane Eve Dry
Thuja sp. 3 E Med Ane Ane Eve Dry
EUPHORBIACEAE Actinostemon klotzschii (Didr.) Pax 1 N Sma Ent Zoo Eve Dry
Alchornea glandulosa Poepp. & Endl. 1 R Med Ane Zoo Eve Fle
Codiaeum variegatum (L.) Rumph. Ex A.Juss. 6 E Sma NI NI Eve Dry
Euphorbia sp. 1 NI Sma Orn Zoo Eve Dry
Jatropha curcas L. 2 N Sma Ent Aut Dec Dry
Sapium glandulosum (L.) Morong 1 N Med Ent Aut Dec Dry
FABACEAE Acacia seyal Delile 1 E Sma Ent Aut Dec Dry
Bauhinia variegata L. 9 E Sma Ent Aut Dec Dry
Caesalpinia pulcherrima (L.) Sw. 2 N Sma Ent Aut Eve Dry
Calliandra tweedii Benth. 1 R Sma Ent Ane Eve Dry
Cassia fistula L. 2 E Med Ent Aut Dec Dry
Dalbergia nigra (Vell.) Allemão ex Benth. 2 R Med Ent Ane Dec Dry
Delonix regia (Bojer ex Hook.) Raf. 8 E Sma Ent Aut Dec Dry
Enterolobium contortisiliquum (Vell.) Morong 2 R Tall Ent Aut Dec Dry
Erythrina falcata Benth. 1 R Med Orn Ane Dec Dry
Hymenaea courbaril L. 1 R Med Chi Zoo Eve Dry
Leucaena leucocephala (Lam.) de Wit 2 N Sma Ent Aut Eve Dry
Lonchocarpus sericeus (Poir.) Kunth ex DC. 1 N Med Ent Zoo Dec Dry
Mimosa caesalpiniifolia Benth. 8 N Med Ent Aut Dec Dry
Paubrasilia echinata (Lam.) Gagnon, H.C.Lima & G.P.Lewis 4 R Sma Ent Ane Eve Dry
Peltophorum dubium (Spreng.) Taub. 3 R Sma Ent Ane Eve Dry
Poincianella pluviosa var. Peltophoroides (Benth.) L.P. Queiroz 237 R Med Ent Aut Eve Dry
Schizolobium parahyba (Vell.) Blake 4 R Tall Ent Ane Dec Dry
Senna macranthera (DC. ex Collad.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby 1 R Sma Ent Aut Dec Dry
Tipuana tipu (Benth.) Kuntze 1 E Med Ent Ane Dec Dry
LAMIACEAE Callicarpa nudiflora Hook. & Arn. 1 E Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Tectona grandis L.f. 1 E Tall Ent Zoo Dec Fle
LAURACEAE Persea americana Mill. 3 E Med Ent Zoo Eve Fle
LECYTHIDACEAE Couroupita guianensis Aubl. 6 N Med Ent Zoo Dec Fle
LYTHRACEAE Lagerstroemia indica L. 2 E Sma Ane Aut Eve Dry
Punica granatum L. 2 E Sma Ent Aut Eve Dry
MALPIGHIACEAE Malpighia emarginata DC. 1 E Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
MALVACEAE Ceiba speciosa (A.St.-Hil.) Ravenna 4 R Med Chi Ane Dec Dry
Dombeya wallichii (Lindl.) Baill. 2 E Sma Ent Zoo Eve Dry
Guazuma ulmifolia Lam. 1 R Sma Ent Zoo Eve Dry
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis L. 4 E Sma Orn NI Eve Dry
Luehea divaricata Mart. & Zucc. 1 R Med Ent Ane Dec Dry
Pachira aquatica Aubl. 1 N Sma Chi Aut Eve Dry
Pachira glabra Pasq. 4 R Sma Chi Aut Eve Dry
MELASTOMATACEAE Pleroma granulosum (Desr.) D. Don 55 N Sma Ent Ane Eve Dry
MELIACEAE Cedrela fissilis Vell. 1 R Med Ent Ane Dec Dry
MORACEAE Ficus benjamina L. 59 N Med Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Ficus microcarpa L.f. 2 E Med Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Morus nigra L. 6 E Sma Ent Zoo Dec Fle
MYRTACEAE Callistemon viminalis (Sol. ex Gaertn.) G.Don 13 E Sma Orn Ane Eve Dry
Calyptranthes brasiliensis Spreng. 1 R Sma Ent Zoo NI Fle
Eucalyptus grandis W. Hill 1 E Tall Ent Ane Eve Fle
Eugenia florida DC. 1 R Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Eugenia involucrata DC. 1 R Sma Ent Zoo Dec Fle
Eugenia uniflora L. 21 R Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Melaleuca leucadendra (L.) L. 4 E Sma Ent Ane Eve Dry
Plinia cauliflora (Mart.) Kausel 11 R Med Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Psidium guajava L. 26 N Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Siphoneugena densiflora O.Berg 2 R Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Syzygium cumini (L.) Skeels 23 N Med Ent Zoo Eve Fle
OLEACEAE Ligustrum lucidum W.T.Aiton 3 E Sma Ent Zoo Eve Dry
OXALIDACEAE Averrhoa carambola L. 1 E Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
PANDANACEAE Pandanus tectorius Parkinson ex Du Roi. 1 E Sma Ent Zoo Dec Fle
PINACEAE Pinus patula Schiede ex Schltdl. & Cham. 1 E Tall Ane Ane Eve Dry
PLATANACEAE Platanus x acerifolia (Ait.) Willd 1 E Tall Ane Ane Dec Dry
POLYGONACEAE Triplaris americana L. 1 N Med Ent Ane Eve Dry
Triplaris caracasana Cham. 2 E Sma Ent Ane Dec Dry
PRIMULACEAE Myrsine guianensis (Aubl.) Kuntze 1 R Med Ent Zoo Eve Fle
RHAMNACEAE Hovenia dulcis Thunb. 1 R Med Ent Zoo Dec Dry
ROSACEAE Eriobotrya japonica (Thunb.) Lindl. 1 N Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
RUBIACEAE Genipa americana L. 1 R Sma Ent Zoo NI Fle
RUTACEAE Citrus sp. 1 NI Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Citrus x limon (L.) Osbeck 4 N Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
Murraya paniculata (L.) Jack 5 E Sma Ent Zoo Eve Fle
SALICACEAE Casearia sylvestris Sw. 1 R Sma Ent Zoo Eve Dry
SAPINDACEAE Allophylus edulis (A.St.-Hil. et al.) Hieron. ex Niederl. 6 R Sma Ent Zoo Dec Fle
SAPOTACEAE Micropholis guyanensis (A.DC.) Pierre 1 R Tall Ent Zoo NI Fle
Brunfelsia uniflora (Pohl) D.Don 1 R Sma Ent Ane Eve Dry
VERBENACEAE Duranta erecta L. 30 R Sma Orn Ane Eve Dry

Sma: small-sized; Med: medium-sized; Ent: entomo-; Ane: anemo-; Aut: auto-; Chi: chiroptero-; Dec: deciduous; Dis: dispersal mode; Eve: evergreen; E: exotic; Fle: fleshy fruits; Fru: fruit type; Hyd: hydro-; N: native; NI: No Information; Ori: geographical origin; Orn: ornito-; Pol: pollination mode; R: regional.

In terms of geographic groups, there was a notable presence of exotic species (40%) in relation to native (23%) and regional species (37%). Concerning to abundance pattern there were 25% exotic individuals, 31% native, and 43% regional. The exotic group was more equitable than the native and regional groups (Table 2).

Table 2 Parameters of the plant assemblages in eight green public spaces in Alfenas, Minas Gerais State, Brazil. 

Origin Abundance Richness Evenness (J’)
Regional 485 40 0.37
Native 359 28 0.51
Exotic 290 48 0.68
No Information 4 3 -
Total 1138 119 0.72

The two dominant species (Poincianella pluviosa and Syagrus romanzoffiana) are regional and accounted for 32% of the total abundance. There was a notable presence of few abundant species, 72% of the total species showed equal or less than five individuals. Despite the two dominant species, the regional group was also the group with the highest percentage of rare species (Figure 2).

Figure 2 Percentages of species by abundance class. Rare: species with only one individual; Few abundant: 2-5 individuals; Abundant: 6-50 individuals; Intermediate: 51-100 individuals; Dominant: > 100 individuals. 

The diversity indices (HF’) were considered low mainly for HF’ind, and showed great variations in the different categories, ranging from 0.42 (leaf life span) to 1.09 (dispersal mode). The exotic species showed higher H-values in relation to the native and regional species in a majority of the categories (Table 3).

Table 3 Functional Diversity Index* (HF’), calculated based on the proportion of individuals (HF’ind) and species (HF’sp) in each functional group of the urban flora. 

HF’ind HF’sp
Size Pollination Dispersal Leaves Fruit Size Pollination Dispersal Leaves Fruit
Regional 0.75 0.34 0.97 0.24 0.65 0.27 0.25 0.28 0.26 0.26
Natives 0.77 0.38 0.86 0.67 0.73 0.21 0.19 0.23 0.19 0.20
Exotic 0.92 0.75 0.84 0.53 0.72 0.32 0.28 0.31 0.27 0.30
Total 0.93 0.53 1.09 0.42 0.70 0.92 0.71 1.04 0.6 0.68

*Adapted from Shannon’s Diversity Index (Shannon & Weaver, 1948).

Most species were classified as: a) small-sized (60% of the total species) (F = 141.4, gl = 2, p < 0.001); b) entomophilous (80%) (F = 16.6, gl = 3, p < 0.001); c) zoochoric (57%) (F = 21.0, gl = 3, p < 0.001); d) evergreen (71%) (t = –9.8, gl = 10, p < 0.05); and e) with dry fruits (56%) (t = –3.2, gl = 10, p < 0.05). The general pattern for individuals was more heterogeneous, with a predominance of the following attributes: a) small (48%) and medium-sized (41%) (F = 7.5, gl = 2, p < 0.01); b) entomophilous (84%) (F = 19.2, gl = 3, p < 0.001); c) zoochoric (42%), anemochoric (29%), and autochoric (28%) (F = 14.0, gl = 3, p < 0.001); d) evergreen (83%) (t = –5.3, gl = 10, p < 0.05); and (e) with dry fruits (65%) (t = 1.9, gl = 10, p < 0.05) (Figure 3).

Figure 3 Number of species (A) (total richness: 119) and individuals (B) (total abundance: 1138) from urban plant assemblages in terms of their functional attributes. Small: Small-sized; Medium: Medium-sized; Tall: Tall-sized; Anemop: Anemophily; Chirop: Chiropterophily; Entomop: Entomophily; Ornitop: Ornithophily; Anemoc: Anemochory; Autoc: Autochory; Hydroc: Hydrochory; Zooc: Zoochory; Dec: Deciduous leaves; Eve: Evergreen leaves; Fle: Fleshy fruits; Dry: Dry fruits. 


4.1. Species diversity

Intensively managed urban ecosystems are not necessarily barriers to biodiversity. Our results suggest that those spaces can act as refuges for rich plant communities. The species richness in the observed green areas was considered high in comparison with other studies undertaken in Brazil (Almeida & Barbosa (2010) reported 45 species; Kramer & Krupek (2012) 98 species; and Raber & Rebelato (2010) 45 species). However, small patches of natural remnant vegetation in the study region often harbor richer communities (Carneiro et al., 2016; Nunes et al., 2003). It suggests the need to consider urban spaces as complementary areas for the conservation of natural forest fragments. The species compositions of the urban green areas also were quite distinct from natural vegetation, as expected, with the marked presence of exotic species. The same pattern has been reported in other cities (Almeida & Barbosa, 2010; Cardoso-Leite et al., 2014; Santos et al., 2012; Wang et al., 2012). Despite increasing species richness at a local level, the introduction of exotic species to urban afforestation sites should be viewed with caution. The impact of exotic plants is an ongoing issue and numerous undesirable consequences have been reported. The consequences include competition with native species and their subsequent population declines (Vidra et al., 2007), the homogenization of the compositions of urban floras (McKinney, 2006), damage to the associated local fauna (Corbet et al., 2001), and biological invasions (Shackleton & Shackleton, 2016).

The persistence of the native flora is not always feasible in cities due to the peculiarities of urban environments and their highly restrictive conditions (Sukopp, 2004; Knapp et al., 2010). High levels of disturbance, reduced sizes of vegetation refuges, and little or no connectivity between them constitute unfavorable conditions that can hinder many complex biological processes and limit the presence of rare native specialist species in cities (Ordóñez & Duinker, 2012; Qing et al., 2015). Therefore it would be desirable for urban afforestation projects to incorporate mechanisms that would stimulate ecological complexity, for example, by increasing size and connectivity among habitat patches (Mörtberg, 2001).

Another relevant point about urban plant communities is their low species evenness. The greater part of the vegetation cover in cities usually consists of only one or a few dominant species, with many other less abundant taxa (Pauleit et al., 2002; Veloso et al., 2014). The two dominant species in Alfenas area accounted for more than 30% of the total abundance, and some of the common species in our study are found in other cities throughout Brazil (Kramer & Krupek, 2012; Santos et al., 2012; Freitas et al., 2015). In general, more diverse areas tend to be ecologically more robust than sites dominated by just a small set of species (Nagendra & Gopal, 2010), and it has been recommended that a single species not exceed 15% of the total number of planted trees (Redin et al., 2010).

4.2. Functional diversity

Functional diversity should be considered as a conservation tool in urban tree projects, as the diversity of ecosystem services performed far more important than the simple numbers of species (Flynn et al., 2009). Human choices regarding which species will form urban plant communities will act as strong selective filters of the richness and functional plant types found in urban habitats (Williams et al., 2008; Knapp et al., 2010). As such, the floristic compositions of the persistent floras of those areas typically combine both cultivated and ornamental species, regardless of their functional or phylogenetic diversity. The functional diversity index in the present study site was considered low for all ecological attributes. The lack of literature investigating that aspect in other Brazilian cities makes comparisons difficult. However, other works have pointed out that increases in tree richness do not necessarily guarantee increased functional diversity, with some ecological redundancy in urban green spaces (Knapp et al., 2008; Dolan et al., 2017). We encourage other researchers to adopt that same perspective in tropical regions.

The patterns of ecological traits found here revealed some similarities with those seen in Semideciduous Seasonal forest fragments, especially in relation to dispersal and pollination syndromes, with most species being zoochoric and entomophilous (Kinoshita et al., 2006; Vale et al., 2011). The presence of species with functional characteristics equivalent to the native flora is desirable and can transform cities into permanent ecological corridors – connecting nearby forest fragments and increasing the permeability of the urban matrix (Munshi-South, 2012). Additionally, the urban flora itself will benefit from those interactions, as the ecological processes essential to their reproduction and persistence will be maintained (Corlett, 2005).

Regarding tree size and fruit type, altered environments commonly favor plants with ruderal life history, smaller size, and dry fruits (Knapp et al., 2012; Williams et al., 2008). The establishment of other functional traits can also be restricted by intentional choices of the species to be cultivated – benefiting plants with characteristics compatible with the management of cultivated spaces. Small trees, for example, may be more suitable for sidewalks and urban power lines (Guimarães, 2006), while species with dry fruits tend to be favored over “messy” fleshy fruits. However, disregarding the ecological aspects of the urban flora can have negative effects on biodiversity (Cunha et al., 2006). The absence of larger trees can reduce the amounts and varieties of resources available to local wildlife (Guimarães, 2006), besides decreasing human thermal comfort (Araujo et al., 2017). Similarly, the lack of zoochoric species can impact local fauna that depends on fruits as food resources. Foraging on urban fruit trees has been observed in many different animals groups, such as bats (Corlett, 2005), monkeys (Cunha et al., 2006), lizards (González-García et al., 2009), and birds (Pauw & Louw, 2012).


The study of plant diversity represents a promising tool for the conservation of biodiversity in urban ecosystems. Since those habitats are becoming increasingly common with the expansion of human populations, the determination of taxonomic and functional patterns will be critical to understand community dynamics and for subsidizing management and conservation strategies. Our results indicate that urban green areas can function as refuges for rich plant communities with significant biodiversity conservation potential, although they are currently poor in regional native species and functional diversity. Urban green areas should therefore best be viewed as complementary strategies to aid in preserving forest remnants, since their floristic and functional compositions greatly differ. Ideally, the choice of species for urban floras should take into account not only socio-economic benefits to human populations, but also natural aspects that can contribute to the ecological integrity and complexity of those environments. We encourage continuing investigations of functional patterns as a tool for understanding the dynamics of biological communities in urban ecosystems. Furthermore, large regional native trees and fleshy fruits should be included in suitable areas to increase the environmental balance, maintain and attract the regional native frugivorous fauna.


We thank Almeida, T.H.M.P. for help in work field, Sampaio, M.B. and anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments, and FAPEMIG for granting a scholarship to one of the authors.

FINANCIAL SUPPORT Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de Minas Gerais – FAPEMIG (Grant/Award Number: 7716/2013).


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Received: November 01, 2017; Accepted: June 30, 2018

Flavio RamosLaboratório de Ecologia de Fragmentos Florestais, Programa de Pós-graduação em Ciências Ambientais, Instituto de Ciências da Natureza, Universidade Federal de Alfenas – UNIFAL, Rua Gabriel Monteiro da Silva, 700, CEP 37130-000, Centro, Alfenas, MG, Brasil e-mail:

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