Biodiversity in Los Angeles

The City of Los Angeles (LA) Mayor’s Office of International Affairs assigned a team of eight students to help enhance the LA City Biodiversity Index to determine current industry benchmarks, create key recommendations for the next report revision, and provide insights for further research. Jackson Caudle ’21, Hope Hendry ’21, McClaran Shirley ’22, Maggie Smart- McCabe ’20, and Snigdha Suvarna ’20 represented Occidental College and reported to the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office for International Affairs

This summer, we had the exceptional opportunity to work with the L.A. Mayor’s Office and L.A.’s Bureau of Sanitation and the Environment (LASAN) in unprecedented times – a global pandemic and the largest civil rights movement of our time. Despite this backdrop and the challenge of working remotely, we persevered.

The City of Los Angeles has a unique landscape between its urbanized area, the Pacific Ocean, and the vast mountain ranges. Despite what people may think, Los Angeles has an abundance of rich native wildlife living within the City limits. It is up to us to make sure we maintain biodiversity and the health of the natural world, as otherwise the City won’t be able to grow sustainability.  This summer our intern team was tasked with creating the first time measurements of LA’s Biodiversity Index, which is a localized biodiversity measurement tool from Singapore. Our team was made up of 8 students from various academic institutions (University of Southern California, Occidental College, and Arizona State University) and had a unique team structure as each student was assigned a specific project to research on throughout the summer. Each intern project covered a variety of specific L.A. Biodiversity Indicators and the summary of each can be seen below.

Public Access to Nature (Hope Hendry)

Research Question→ What portion of Los Angeles’ population have the most difficulty accessing natural areas?

Process→ Conducted a 0.5 mile driving/walking network analysis around the perimeter of all accessible natural areas within the City using data mapping through ArcGIS. From there, accessibility was broken down into race, age, socioeconomic factors, and public health implications. 

Results→ Research shows that African American, Hispanic and youth populations have the greatest need for access to nature.  From this research, the city can make decisions on how to proceed with increasing public access to nature.

Urban Natural Area Protection and Management (Austin Berry)

Research Question→ How has urban natural area protection and management changed since it was previously measured?

Process→  Looked into the invasiveness measurements of plant species within the City boundaries as well as change in protected natural area using data provided by CPAD/CCED. A database was also created to show species locations and their invasiveness level. 

Results→ Found that L.A had a net overall increase in protected land. As for invasive plants in the area, 142 unique species were documented within the city boundary. The invasive species database  will help the City make containment/eradication decisions.

Wildlife Connectivity (Snigdha Suvarna)

Research Question→ Are there potential wildlife linkages within Los Angeles that can improve species connectivity between habitat areas?

Process→  Selected 9 target taxa, which are all charismatic and special species of concern, to focus the analysis. Then used circuit theory and resistance modeling techniques to map natural areas & iNaturalist species observation data on top of potential hazards areas, such as pollution, to generate least cost/resistant pathways.

Results→ Created methodology on how to find least cost pathways as well as found 5 potential wildlife linkage pathways between the Santa Monica and Griffith Park region. This information will aid Urban City Planners about key parcel areas that need to be protected and restored for wildlife connectivity. 

Charismatic Umbrella Species and sensitive indicator species (Jackson Caudle)

Research Question→  What are some of the charismatic umbrella and sensitive indicator species within Los Angeles and in what areas can these species be found?

Process→ Created a database that documents potential species that fall under this category by defining charismatic umbrella species as easily recognizable species that can protect large areas of natural land and sensitive indicator species as a species that can tell you about the health of a specific environment. 

Results→Found that the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains had the highest number of species observations in Los Angeles.

Native Fauna Monitoring (Zoe Navapanich):  

Research Question→ How is native fauna monitored within Los Angeles?

Process→ Created a comprehensive database of species within LA that serves as a resource for basic information about LA native species and showcases change over time as the data is updated based on community science-sourced occurrence data. She assigned each species an “Urban Tolerance” score based on their habitat needs and ability to live in areas of varying populations. 

Results→ Encouraged the City to use the newly created urban tolerance scores in hopes to better the monitoring of native fauna.

Biodiversity in Education (Maggie Smart-McCabe):  

Research Question→ How can the City better assess biodiversity education opportunities in school curriculum, field trips, and educational gardens and biodiversity habitats in K-12 LAUSD schools?

Process→  Conducted outreach to a network of stakeholders involved in biodiversity programming and instruction at K-12 schools, community partner organizations, and educational centers. 

Results→ Built outreach infrastructure on how the City can better focus on building community partnerships between local biodiversity and environmental justice thought-leaders, which is especially important during distance learning education curriculum. 

Governance & Management (McClaran Shirley): 
Research Question→ How can the City government better manage the SDGs while measuring, engaging , and enhancing biodiversity?
Process→  Conducted online research, surveys, department interviews, and other forms of research to gain insight into biodiversity enhancing programs.  
Results→ Recommended the City of Los Angeles to adopt a Local Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (LBSAP) as defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). This comprehensive and City-wide plan would create effective and widespread positive impacts on the management and governance relating to conserving and enhancing biodiversity within the City.

Community Stewardship Tool (Tyler Branum)

Research Question→ What tools can we create for the Angeleno community so they can best practice biodiversity?

Process→  Collected data from Calscape and organized the information through excel by creating a search feature that corresponds to zip codes within Los Angeles. Once the zip code is typed in, the excel sheet will populate with relevant plant alliances and maintenance recommendations. 

Results→ Created a user friendly stewardship decision tool that showcases key planting information. With this tool, both experts and the average individual will be able to use this zip code search function to understand how they can easily improve the biodiversity within their area.

Even though each intern had a very unique project, in the end all our projects furthered the measurement of the LA Biodiversity Index as well as created a roadmap for LASAN to follow as our projects highlighted key data gaps, engagement improvements, and overarching biodiversity recommendations.   

Through this internship it is clear to say that the SDGs are such a unifying framework as each and everyone one of us talked to various individuals across all sectors in order to help us better understand how we can properly co-exist with the native species of Los Angeles. At the end of the day,  having a diverse ecosystem not only strengthens the overall environmental quality, but can also significantly enrich a city to grow sustainably for the benefit of both humans and natural health of all species. 


Best Regards,
Austin Berry, Hope Hendry, Jackson Caudle, Maggie Smart-McCabe, McClaran Shirley, Snigdha Suvarna (Project Lead), Tyler Branum &  Zoe Navapanich

Special Thanks To:
LA Sanitation & Environment, LA Mayor’s Office, John McCormack, Michele Barton & Peggy Nguyen


Team Members
Jackson Caudle, Hope Hendry, McClaran Shirley, Maggie Smart- McCabe, and Snigdha Suvarna Occidental College,
Austin Berry and Tyler Branum Arizona State University
Zoe Navapanich University of Southern California  

Contact the John Parke Young Initiative on the Global Political Economy
Johnson Hall

The McKinnon Center for Global Affairs