Exurban Backyards: Hotspots for Ecosystem Services?

EPA Grant Number: FP917509
Title: Exurban Backyards: Hotspots for Ecosystem Services?
Investigators: Visscher, Rachel Stehouwer
Institution: University of Michigan
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: September 1, 2012 through August 31, 2014
Project Amount: $84,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Urban Planning , Academic Fellowships


This research will investigate whether the backyard, as a more private space than the front yard, is a potential place to incorporate innovative, environmentally beneficial management practices into large yards. Homeowner reported behaviors and preferences will be measured in exurban residential landscapes, allowing the development of recommendations for design, management and policy.


In addition to building on previous research in landscape ecology, environmental planning and related fields, the study will use data collected since 2005 from three related surveys to further understand homeowner preferences and behaviors. In 2005 and 2011, Web surveys asked Michigan homeowners about their yard management behaviors and preferences. The surveys used images to determine the types of yard designs people liked and disliked. In 2009, in-depth interviews provided more specific insight into these questions. This study will use statistical analysis to examine homeowner preferences over time, as well as compare front and backyard preferences. This analysis will provide an understanding of how people perceive their yards and what kinds of innovations would be acceptable to them.

Expected Results:

The broad goal of this research is to identify ecosystem services provided by exurban residential landscapes and make inferences about practices that may mitigate negative environmental impacts of sprawl. Because of the more private nature of backyards, it is hypothesized that homeowners are more willing to use innovative yard designs and management techniques in their backyards. This research will provide specific recommendations for developing these techniques. Combining these findings with previous landscape ecology and environmental planning research will lead to actionable results for design, management and policy.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

Finding methods of enhancing ecosystem services in backyards could have positive implications for human health and the environment. Ecosystem services such as climate change mitigation, carbon storage, water quality improvements, pollutant reduction, wildlife habitat and nutrient cycling could all be incorporated into residential landscapes. This could reduce significantly the negative impacts of sprawl.

Supplemental Keywords:

ecosystem services, landscape ecology, yard design

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2013
  • Final