Landscape Ecology

, 26:645 | Cite as

90 years of forest cover change in an urbanizing watershed: spatial and temporal dynamics

  • Weiqi Zhou
  • Ganlin Huang
  • Steward T. A. Pickett
  • M. L. Cadenasso
Research Article


Landscape structure in the Eastern US experienced great changes in the last century with the expansion of forest cover into abandoned agricultural land and the clearing of secondary forest cover for urban development. In this paper, the spatial and temporal patterns of forest cover from 1914 to 2004 in the Gwynns Falls watershed in Baltimore, Maryland were quantified from historic maps and aerial photographs. Using a database of forest patches from six times—1914, 1938, 1957, 1971, 1999, and 2004—we found that forest cover changed, both temporally and spatially. While total forest area remained essentially constant, turnover in forest cover was very substantial. Less than 20% of initial forest cover remained unchanged. Forest cover became increasingly fragmented as the number, size, shape, and spatial distribution of forest patches within the watershed changed greatly. Forest patch change was also analyzed within 3-km distance bands extending from the urban core to the more suburban end of the watershed. This analysis showed that, over time, the location of high rates of forest cover change shifted from urban to suburban bands which coincides with the spatial shift of urbanization. Forest cover tended to be more stable in and near the urban center, whereas forest cover changed more in areas where urbanization was still in process. These results may have critical implications for the ecological functioning of forest patches and underscore the need to integrate multi-temporal data layers to investigate the spatial pattern of forest cover and the temporal variations of that spatial pattern.


Forest fragmentation Patch dynamics Gradient analysis Change detection Transition analysis Baltimore Urban ecology 



This research was funded by the National Science Foundation LTER program (DEB 042376). We thank the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions. We also thank Caitlin Hicks and Elizabeth Cook for their assistance with the initial data processing.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Weiqi Zhou
    • 1
  • Ganlin Huang
    • 2
  • Steward T. A. Pickett
    • 3
  • M. L. Cadenasso
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Plant SciencesUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA
  2. 2.Center for Regional ChangeUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA
  3. 3.Cary Institute of Ecosystem StudiesMillbrookUSA

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