Urban Ecosystems

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 429–455 | Cite as

Land fragmentation under rapid urbanization: A cross-site analysis of Southwestern cities

  • Abigail M. YorkEmail author
  • Milan Shrestha
  • Christopher G. Boone
  • Sainan Zhang
  • John A. HarringtonJr.
  • Thomas J. Prebyl
  • Amaris Swann
  • Michael Agar
  • Michael F. Antolin
  • Barbara Nolen
  • John B. Wright
  • Rhonda Skaggs


Explosive population growth and increasing demand for rural homes and lifestyles fueled exurbanization and urbanization in the western USA over the past decades. Using National Land Cover Data we analyzed land fragmentation trends from 1992 to 2001 in five southwestern cities associated with Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites. We observed two general fragmentation trends: expansion of the urbanized area leading to fragmentation in the exurban and peri-urban regions and decreased fragmentation associated with infill in the previously developed urban areas. We identified three fragmentation patterns, riparian, polycentric, and monocentric, that reflect the recent western experience with growth and urbanization. From the literature and local expert opinion, we identified five relevant drivers – water provisioning, population dynamics, transportation, topography, and institutions – that shape land use decision-making and fragmentation in the southwest. In order to assess the relative importance of each driver on urbanization, we linked historical site-specific driver information obtained through literature reviews and archival analyses to the observed fragmentation patterns. Our work highlights the importance of understanding land use decision-making drivers in concert and throughout time, as historic decisions leave legacies on landscapes that continue to affect land form and function, a process often forgotten in a region and era of blinding change.


Land fragmentation Exurbanization The US Southwest Urban ecology 



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DEB-0423704, Central Arizona Phoenix Long Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER) project. We also would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and Nancy Grimm, Scott Collins, and Debra Peters for their support and helpful critiques throughout this project.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Abigail M. York
    • 1
    Email author
  • Milan Shrestha
    • 2
  • Christopher G. Boone
    • 3
  • Sainan Zhang
    • 4
  • John A. HarringtonJr.
    • 5
  • Thomas J. Prebyl
    • 6
  • Amaris Swann
    • 7
  • Michael Agar
    • 8
  • Michael F. Antolin
    • 9
  • Barbara Nolen
    • 10
  • John B. Wright
    • 11
  • Rhonda Skaggs
    • 12
  1. 1.School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological ResearchArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological ResearchArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  3. 3.School of Sustainability, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological ResearchArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  4. 4.School of Sustainability, Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological ResearchArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  5. 5.Department of Geography, Konza Prairie Long-Term Ecological ResearchKansas State UniversityManhattanUSA
  6. 6.Warnell School of Forestry and Natural ResourcesUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  7. 7.Sevilleta Long-Term Ecological ResearchUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA
  8. 8.Sevilleta Long-Term Ecological ResearchUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA
  9. 9.Shortgrass Steppe Long-Term Ecological ResearchColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  10. 10.Jornada Basin Long-Term Ecological ResearchNew Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA
  11. 11.Department of Geography, Jornada Basin Long-Term Ecological ResearchNew Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA
  12. 12.Department of Agricultural Economics & Agricultural Business, Jornada Basin Long-Term Ecological ResearchNew Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA

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