Skip to main content

A landscape ecology assessment of land-use change on the Great Plains-Denver (CO, USA) metropolitan edge


For better or worse, in those parts of the world with a widespread farming, livestock rising, and urban expansion, the maintenance of species richness and ecosystem services cannot depend only upon protected natural sites. Can they rely on a network of cultural landscapes endowed with their own associated biodiversity? We analyze the effects of land-cover change on landscape ecological patterns and processes that sustain bird species richness associated to cropland-grassland landscapes in the Great Plains-Denver metropolitan edge. Our purpose is to assess the potential contribution to bird biodiversity maintenance of Great Plain’s cropland-grassland mosaics kept as farmland green belts in the edge of metropolitan areas. We present a quantitative landscape ecology assessment of land-cover changes (1930–2010) experienced in five Great Plains counties in Colorado. Several landscape metrics assess the diversity of land-cover patterns and their impact on ecological connectivity indices. These metrics are applied to historical land-cover maps and datasets drawn from aerial photos and satellite imagery. The results show that the cropland-grassland mosaics that link the metropolitan edge with the surrounding habitats sheltered in less human-disturbed areas provide a heterogeneous land matrix were a high bird species richness exists. They also suggest that keeping multifunctional farmland-grassland green belts near the edge of metropolitan areas may provide important ecosystem services, supplementing traditional conservation policies. Our maps and indicators can be used for selecting certain types of landscape patterns and priority areas on which biodiversity conservation efforts and land-use planning can concentrate.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7


Download references


The authors would like to thanks the contributions of Myron Gutmann, Susan Leonard, Dan Brown, Melinda Smith, Mike Antolin, Dennis Ojima and Michael Brydge, and the technical support of Francesc Coll, Manel Pons and Marta Bayona. This work has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Partnership Grant 895-2011-1020, entitled “Sustainable Farm Systems: Long-Term Socio-Ecological Metabolism in Western Agriculture”.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Joan Marull.

Additional information

Editor: Kathleen Hermans

Electronic supplementary material


(DOCX 83.6 kb)



Fig. 8
figure 8

Land-cover sample cells distributed in five Colorado counties (Weld, Logan, Morgan, Adams and Arapahoe), and bird sample coincident routes (1967–2007) from the North American Breeding Bird Survey

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Marull, J., Cunfer, G., Sylvester, K. et al. A landscape ecology assessment of land-use change on the Great Plains-Denver (CO, USA) metropolitan edge. Reg Environ Change 18, 1765–1782 (2018).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Agro-ecosystems
  • Land-cover/land-use change
  • Ecological connectivity
  • Landscape heterogeneity
  • Bird species richness
  • Great Plains