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Why do affluent St. Louis areas host more wildlife? Blame the 'luxury effect'

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St. Louis Wildlife Project

The types of animals one might see in particular St. Louis neighborhoods are an indicator of income disparity in the region. That’s according to a recent study conducted by more than 20 institutions in different cities that monitor urban wildlife patterns.

The paper, published in Global Change Biology, argues that St. Louis has the strongest correlation between biodiversity and income of the 20 cities in the study. Places in Ballwin, for example, have more biodiversity than places in downtown St. Louis. It’s called the “luxury effect.”

“It's not something we should be proud of here,” Solny Adalsteinsson said. She is staff scientist at Washington University’s Tyson Research Center and co-founder of STL Wildlife Project.

STL Wildlife Project’s documentation since 2018 contributed a wealth of information to the study. Researchers distributed 34 cameras, starting at the Gateway Arch grounds downtown all the way out to Route 66 State Park, to automatically capture images of animals walking by. That includes the many squirrels, opossums and raccoons that are regulars around the city. But farther out, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, deer and even armadillos make an appearance.

A new camera site was recently added in the College Hill neighborhood in north St. Louis.

Related: St. Louis Wildlife Project Captures The Day-To-Day Of Region’s Wild Animals

As a co-author of the study, Adalsteinsson joined Friday’s St. Louis on the Air to explain how patterns of income and urbanization affect mammal biodiversity.

“We're seeing that the wealthier areas had more diversity, presence [of animals,]” she said. “It, I think, reflects one of many inequities across our region. And in this case, it reflects an inequity in folks' access to nature.”

Some city dwellers might appreciate a decreased risk of driving into deer or larger animals. But Adalsteinsson said it’s important to keep the bigger picture in mind, and she reiterated that more research can help cities make better policy decisions in favor of wildlife.

“There can be negative human wildlife encounters, for sure. But I think one of the things we're trying to get at with work like this is to understand not only what features of the landscape can help us preserve the greatest diversity of species, but also how we can minimize those types of human wildlife conflicts,” she explained.

“For example, with deer or larger species that need a lot of habitat area to move, some cities have implemented strategies like building green corridors or wildlife underpasses over roads to help mitigate those things. That is a win-win for both the wildlife and the human.”

Wealthy neighborhoods attract more biodiversity in St. Louis. It’s called the "luxury effect,"
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Friday’s program included comments from one of the lead authors on the study: Seth Magle, director of the Urban Wildlife Information Network at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. Magle said that in the past, urban wildlife matters have been largely ignored.

“But slowly, we're starting to realize that animals that live in cities are just as interesting and potentially just as valuable as species that live anywhere else,” he said.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Lara is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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