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Heterogeneity in the land cover composition and configuration of US cities: implications for ecosystem services

Abstract

Context

Cities are comprised of complex matrices of differing development intensities, as well as interstitial natural and agricultural lands. While changes in development intensity along an urban-to-rural gradient within a city are well established, variation among cities is largely unexplored but has important in understanding heterogeneity of urban ecosystems and their services.

Objectives

The objectives were to: (1) characterize the variation in population density and land cover composition of cities of different population sizes and city ages, (2) determine differences among cities and the relationship with political and physiographic boundaries, and (3) determine if environmental characteristics differed by with composition and the implications for ecosystem services.

Methods

We quantified the land cover composition, configuration, population density, and environmental characteristics of all urban areas with populations greater than 1000 people in the conterminous United States.

Results

Six types of cities emerged with differing dominant developed and interstitial land covers and configurations. Larger cities tend to be more similar and less representative of the typical US city, while urban age had little influence on characteristics. City types were clustered in different regions that were better accounted for by ecoregion than by state boundary. City types accounded for differences in environmental characteristics.

Conclusions

The land cover composition and configuration varies among US cities of different sizes and physiographic regions likely contributing to variability in ecosystem services. Urban ecologists and planners should consider inter-city heterogeneity in developing experimental design and management of ecosystem services.

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Acknowledgements

Funding for this work was provided by Hatch Grant: 160060. The authors thank Dr. James Heffernan and Patricia Donovan for input on early drafts of this work. All data is available at https://data.lib.vt.edu/collections/m039k501d.

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Steele, M.K., Wolz, H. Heterogeneity in the land cover composition and configuration of US cities: implications for ecosystem services. Landscape Ecol 34, 1247–1261 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-019-00859-y

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Keywords

  • Cities
  • Land cover composition
  • Configuration
  • Ecosystem services