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Ecological consequences of fragmentation and deforestation in an urban landscape: a case study


Landscape change is an ongoing process even within established urban landscapes. Yet, analyses of fragmentation and deforestation have focused primarily on the conversion of non-urban to urban landscapes in rural landscapes and ignored urban landscapes. To determine the ecological effects of continued urbanization in urban landscapes, tree-covered patches were mapped in the Gwynns Falls watershed (17158.6 ha) in Maryland for 1994 and 1999 to document fragmentation, deforestation, and reforestation. The watershed was divided into lower (urban core), middle (older suburbs), and upper (recent suburbs) subsections. Over the entire watershed a net of 264.5 of 4855.5 ha of tree-covered patches were converted to urban land use—125 new tree-covered patches were added through fragmentation, 4 were added through reforestation, 43 were lost through deforestation, and 7 were combined with an adjacent patch. In addition, 180 patches were reduced in size. In the urban core, deforestation continued with conversion to commercial land use. Because of the lack of vegetation, commercial land uses are problematic for both species conservation and derived ecosystem benefits. In the lower subsection, shape complexity increased for tree-covered patches less than 10 ha. Changes in shape resulted from canopy expansion, planted materials, and reforestation of vacant sites. In the middle and upper subsections, the shape index value for tree-covered patches decreased, indicating simplification. Density analyses of the subsections showed no change with respect to patch densities but pointed out the importance of small patches (≤5 ha) as “stepping stone” to link large patches (e.g., >100 ha). Using an urban forest effect model, we estimated, for the entire watershed, total carbon loss and pollution removal, from 1994 to 1999, to be 14,235,889.2 kg and 13,011.4 kg, respectively due to urban land-use conversions.

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Correspondence to W. C. Zipperer.

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Zipperer, W.C., Foresman, T.W., Walker, S.P. et al. Ecological consequences of fragmentation and deforestation in an urban landscape: a case study. Urban Ecosyst 15, 533–544 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-012-0238-3

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  • Deforestation
  • Fragmentation
  • Connectivity
  • Ecosystem benefits