Cities can have profound impacts on ecosystems, yet our understanding of these impacts is currently limited. First, the effects of the socioeconomic dimensions of human society are often overlooked. Second, correlative analyses are common, limiting our causal understanding of mechanisms. Third, most research has focused on terrestrial systems, ignoring aquatic systems that also provide important ecosystem services. Here we compare the effects of human population density and low-income prevalence on the macroinvertebrate communities and ecosystem processes within water-filled artificial tree holes. We hypothesized that these human demographic variables would affect tree holes in different ways via changes in temperature, water nutrients, and the local tree hole environment. We recruited community scientists across Greater Vancouver (Canada) to provide host trees and tend 50 tree holes over 14 weeks of colonization. We quantified tree hole ecosystems in terms of aquatic invertebrates, litter decomposition, and chlorophyll a (chl a). We compiled potential explanatory variables from field measurements, satellite images, or census databases. Using structural equation models, we showed that invertebrate abundance was affected by low-income prevalence but not human population density. This was driven by cosmopolitan species of Ceratopogonidae (Diptera) with known associations to anthropogenic containers. Invertebrate diversity and abundance were also affected by environmental factors, such as temperature, elevation, water nutrients, litter quantity, and exposure. By contrast, invertebrate biomass, chl a, and litter decomposition were not affected by any measured variables. In summary, this study shows that some urban ecosystems can be largely unaffected by human population density. Our study also demonstrates the potential of using artificial tree holes as a standardized, replicated habitat for studying urbanization. Finally, by combining community science and urban ecology, we were able to involve our local community in this pandemic research pivot.

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