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Landscape and Urban Planning 108 (2012) 1

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Landscape and Urban Planning
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Landscape and Urban Planning cover for Volume 108

Our cover image for Volume 108 highlights research reported in this issue by Peter Meffert, Marzluff, and Dziock (2012) entitled: “Unintentional habitats: Value of a city’s wastelands for the Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe).” The Wheatear is a small, insectivorous songbird that lives in open alpine and rural landscapes with short grassy vegetation. Its range is extensive across Europe and Asia but its populations have declined dramatically in Europe, and in Germany, where this research was conducted, the bird is categorized as “threatened by extinction.” While populations of the Wheatear have been documented in a number of European cities, little is known about the minimum habitat requirements urban areas must provide to ensure breeding success. To address this knowledge gap, the authors investigated the occurrence and breeding success of the Wheatear in relation to the vegetation and landscape structure of open vacant lands in the city of Berlin, along with site disturbance by people and dogs and adjacent residential population density. Using a design that monitored 55 sites and a citywide survey of breeding pairs, the authors found that the size of a site greatly affected the probability of Wheatear occurrence, but that breeding success did not seem to be related to habitat preference. On the basis of their work, the authors conclude that if European cities are to contribute to the support of Wheatear populations, landscape planners should provide open spaces a minimum of 5 ha in area with sparse vegetation, open soils, short grass, and very few trees and shrubs. The cover photograph by Florian Möllers (, exemplifies this habitat. Möllers captured a male Wheatear perched on stalk of a Dense-flowered Mullein (Verbascum densiflorum) on a vacant lot adjacent to the main railway station in central Berlin. As one of the sites studied in their research, the authors found the lot successfully supported four breeding pairs of Wheatears along with a Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris), another songbird that is highly threatened in the European Union.

With appropriate and often only minimal landscape management, vacant lands such as this can provide important habitats for fauna and flora as well as serve other valuable ecosystem services for cities and their regions. These “unintentional habitats” may have particular significance in the case of shrinking cities in Europe and other areas of the world, but they also raise questions about the protection of biodiversity and other ecosystem values in the context of transitory land use. In the specific case photographed here, the vacant lot is scheduled for redevelopment and the habitat will soon be lost. Large vacant parcels are particularly vulnerable, and while landscapes of ruderal vegetation are not hard to recreate, communicating the values of what are commonly termed “wastelands” is a major challenge for landscape planners when faced with demand for competing land uses. Reference
Meffert, P. J., Marzluff, J. M., & Dziock, F. (2012). Unintentional habitats: Value of a city’s wastelands for the wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe). Landscape and Urban Planning, 108(1), 49–56.

0169-2046/$ – see front matter © 2012 Published by Elsevier B.V.