Ecosystem services and the “luxury and legacy effects”

Researchers from BC3, ICTA-UAB, Aarhus University, and Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) conducted a study in Vitoria Gasteiz City examining how socio-economic factors and historical management practices influence urban biodiversity, vegetation cover, and ecosystem services.

According to the study’s results, affluent neighbourhoods were found to have a positive correlation with urban biodiversity, suggesting a pattern that in urban ecology is referred to as the “luxury effect”.

Older areas in the city, such as the city centre, shaped by historical management practices in terms of green space, showed higher canopy cover and related ecosystem services (ES) such as urban temperature regulation, runoff control, air purification, and carbon offsetting, indicating “legacy effects”, which are environmental changes resulting from antecedent human disturbances.

The quantity and ecological quality of green areas decrease with neighbourhood age, particularly so to higher population densities. Yet, the provision of ecosystem services increased with neighbourhood age, especially in those neighbourhoods with older and well-established canopy cover.

“Understanding the impacts of luxury and legacy effects on the spatial patterns of urban biodiversity and how they affect human well-being can contribute to better management practices and strategies towards environmental justice. In this study, we analyse how these effects influence the distribution of vegetation cover, biodiversity and their associated regulating ecosystem services in urban landscapes.” (Celina Aznarez, BC3 early career researcher and lead author of the study)

The study concluded that to promote environmental justice and equal access to nature, cities should prioritize access to urban green spaces (UGS) and their benefits for vulnerable communities. Understanding historical land-use planning and considering socio-environmental factors are crucial for improving the ecological quality of urban areas and creating a balanced and biodiverse environment for all.

“Expanding and conserving UGS as part of urban green infrastructure without prioritising access to their benefits for vulnerable groups can exacerbate environmental injustices and trigger luxury effects. It is crucial to prioritise access to these benefits for those who need them the most, particularly for residents and communities who are most exposed to hostile environmental conditions.” (Celina Aznarez, BC3 early career researcher and lead author of the study)

This research opens up new avenues to consider luxury and legacy effects and unravel the relationship between urban biodiversity, ecological functions, and ES, along with its cascading effects on urban dwellers’ well-being.

Paper details:

Title: Luxury and legacy effects on urban biodiversity, vegetation cover and ecosystem services



Authors: Aznarez, C., Svenning, JC., Pacheco, J.P. et al.

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María de Maeztu Excellence Unit 2023-2027 Ref. CEX2021-001201-M, funded by MCIN/AEI /10.13039/501100011033

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