Emerging urban forests: opportunities for promoting the wild side of the urban green infrastructure.
Many cities aim to increase urban forest cover to benefit residents through the provision of ecosystem services and to promote biodiversity. As a complement to traditional forest plantings, we address opportunities associated with "emerging urban forests" (i.e., spontaneously developing forests in cities) for urban biodiversity conservation. We quantified the area of successional forests and analyzed the species richness of native and alien plants and of invertebrates (carabid beetles, spiders) in emerging forests dominated by alien or native trees, including Robinia pseudoacacia, Acer platanoides, and Betula pendula. Emerging urban forests were revealed as shared habitats of native and alien species. Native species richness was not profoundly affected by the alien (co-)dominance of the canopy. Instead, native and alien plant species richnesses were positively related. Numbers of endangered plants and invertebrates did not differ between native- and alien-dominated forest patches. Patterns of tree regeneration indicate different successional trajectories for novel forest types. We conclude that these forests (i) provide habitats for native and alien species, including some endangered species, (ii) allow city dwellers to experience wild urban nature, and (iii) support arguments for adapting forests to dynamic urban environments. Integrating emerging urban forests into the urban green infrastructure is a promising pathway to sustainable cities and can complement traditional restoration or greening approaches.