Title

Colonial History Impacts Urban Tree Species Distribution in a Tropical City

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

5-2019

Abstract

Urban forests associated with green infrastructure for sustainable outcomes are particularly critical in the Global South, where some of the world’s fastest-growing cities are located. However, compared to temperate cities, the drivers of urban tree species distribution in tropical cities remain understudied. In this study, we quantify the spatial distribution and abundance of urban forests in the tropical city of Georgetown, Guyana. British colonialism has shaped this city, including forced movement of peoples under slavery from Africa and indentured servants from the Indian Subcontinent. We studied how this multicultural context has influenced tree species distributions in the capital city of the only Anglophone country in South America. We quantified the abundance of tree species using a stratified sampling design to distribute transects across fifteen neighborhoods that vary in distance to the colonial center of the city and ethnic composition. We recorded a total of 57 unique species, the majority of which (73%) were cultivated for their edible fruits. We identify tree species that likely represent Guyana’s unique multicultural heritage by comparing our species list to flora in nine cities in neighboring countries (Venezuela and Brazil) with different colonial histories. This international comparison identified a set of tree species that occurred only in Guyana. Relationships between ethnic composition and colonial history and tree species distribution were weak at the neighborhood scale, where proportion of East Indian residents had little explanatory power and distance to colonial center was correlated with abundance of only some species groups. This apparent discrepancy between neighborhood and national scales may relate to the establishment of Guyanese food as a unifying national identifier across ethnicities. The prominence of edible fruit trees in our study suggests a set of species that could be incorporated into urban planning to strengthen biocultural linkages,foster cultural integration, and promote food security.

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