Main content area

Response of vegetation phenology to urbanization in the conterminous United States

Li, Xuecao, Zhou, Yuyu, Asrar, Ghassem R., Mao, Jiafu, Li, Xiaoma, Li, Wenyu
Global change biology 2017 v.23 no.7 pp. 2818-2830
Earth system science, carbon, climatic zones, growing season, human health, models, nutrients, phenology, rural areas, urban areas, urbanization, vegetation types, United States
The influence of urbanization on vegetation phenology is gaining considerable attention due to its implications for human health, cycling of carbon and other nutrients in Earth system. In this study, we examined the relationship between change in vegetation phenology and urban size, an indicator of urbanization, for the conterminous United States. We studied more than 4500 urban clusters of varying size to determine the impact of urbanization on plant phenology, with the aids of remotely sensed observations since 2003–2012. We found that phenology cycle (changes in vegetation greenness) in urban areas starts earlier (start of season, SOS) and ends later (end of season, EOS), resulting in a longer growing season length (GSL), when compared to the respective surrounding urban areas. The average difference of GSL between urban and rural areas over all vegetation types, considered in this study, is about 9 days. Also, the extended GSL in urban area is consistent among different climate zones in the United States, whereas their magnitudes are varying across regions. We found that a tenfold increase in urban size could result in an earlier SOS of about 1.3 days and a later EOS of around 2.4 days. As a result, the GSL could be extended by approximately 3.6 days with a range of 1.6–6.5 days for 25th ~ 75th quantiles, with a median value of about 2.1 days. For different vegetation types, the phenology response to urbanization, as defined by GSL, ranges from 1 to 4 days. The quantitative relationship between phenology and urbanization is of great use for developing improved models of vegetation phenology dynamics under future urbanization, and for developing change indicators to assess the impacts of urbanization on vegetation phenology.