, Volume 11, Issue 8, pp 1211-1222
Date: 14 Aug 2007

Effects of Forest Regrowth and Urbanization on Ecosystem Carbon Storage in a Rural–Urban Gradient in the Southeastern United States

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Forest regrowth after cropland abandonment and urban sprawl are two counteracting processes that have influenced carbon (C) sequestration in the southeastern United States in recent decades. In this study, we examined patterns of land-use/land-cover change and their effect on ecosystem C storage in three west Georgia counties (Muscogee, Harris, and Meriwether) that form a rural–urban gradient. Using time series Landsat imagery data including MSS for 1974, TM for 1983 and 1991, and ETM for 2002, we estimate that from 1974 to 2002, urban land use in the area has increased more than 380% (that is, 184 km2). Most newly urbanized land (63%) has been converted from forestland. Conversely, cropland and pasture area has decreased by over 59% (that is, 380 km2). Most of the cropland area was converted to forest. As a result, the net change in forest area was small over the past 29 years. Based on Landsat imagery and agricultural census records, we reconstructed an annual gridded data set of land-cover change for the three counties for the period 1850 to 2002. These data sets were then used as input to the Terrestrial Ecosystem Model (TEM) to simulate land-use effects on C fluxes and storage for the study area. Simulated results suggest that C uptake by forest regrowth (approximately 23.0 g C m−2 y−1) was slightly greater than the amount of C released due to deforestation (approximately 18.4 g C m−2 y−1), thus making the three counties a weak C sink. However, the relative importance of different deforestation processes in this area changed significantly through time. Although agricultural deforestation was generally the most important C-release process, the amount of C release attributable to urbanization has increased over time. Since 1990, urbanization has accounted for 29% of total C loss from the study area. We conclude that balancing urban development and forest protection is critically important for C management and policy making in the southeastern United States.