Landscape Ecology

, Volume 27, Issue 8, pp 1149–1165 | Cite as

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 Article


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.


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



Part of the research was funded by the 2008 First-Year Assistant Professor summer grant at Florida State University. The climate data used in this study was acquired as part of the activities of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, and are archived and distributed by the Goddard Earth Sciences (GES) Data and Information Services Center (DISC). We would also like to extend our gratitude to Lisa A. Schulte and the anonymous reviewers.

Supplementary material

10980_2012_9766_MOESM1_ESM.docx (28 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 27 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tingting Zhao
    • 1
  • Daniel G. Brown
    • 2
  • Hongliang Fang
    • 3
  • David M. Theobald
    • 4
  • Ting Liu
    • 1
  • Tao Zhang
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of GeographyFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  2. 2.School of Natural Resources & EnvironmentThe University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.LREIS, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources ResearchChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  4. 4.Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, Natural Resource Ecology LaboratoryColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  5. 5.Department of BiologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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