Vegetation productivity consequences of human settlement growth in the eastern United States

Tingting Zhao, Daniel G. Brown, Hongliang Fang, David M. Theobald, Ting Liu, Tao Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


In this study, we investigated the impact of human settlement growth on vegetation carbon uptake in the eastern United States between 1992/1993 and 2001. Human settlement growth was measured by changes in the density of housing units. Vegetation carbon uptake was estimated with gross primary production (GPP) based on the light-use efficiency approach applied to satellite imagery. Annual GPP was found to increase by approximately 140 g C m -2 on average for the entire study area in 2001 compared to 1992/1993, accompanied by region-wide increases in downward shortwave radiation and minimum daily temperature. Changes in GPP, however, varied significantly by different types of settlement growth. Exurbanized areas, where the rural settlement (less than 0.025 units per acre) converted to exurbs (0.025-0.6 units per acre), were associated with approximately 157 g C m -2 increase in GPP due to high vegetation proportions. Suburbanization, the conversion from exurban settlement to suburbs (0.6-4 units per acre), was related with a decline of GPP by 152 g C m -2 due to progressive development of built-up land cover. Results help to understand the potential of carbon mitigation in the human-dominated landscapes using vegetation as a natural store of carbon dioxide. This in turn has implications for the low-carbon development planning along the gradient of human settlement densities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1149-1165
Number of pages17
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Sep 1 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Carbon
  • Decennial census
  • Exurban sprawl
  • Gross primary production
  • Remote sensing
  • Suburban sprawl
  • Urban sprawl

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