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Effects of rapid urbanization on vegetation cover in the metropolises of China over the last four decades

Du, Jiaqiang, Fu, Qing, Fang, Shifeng, Wu, Jinhua, He, Ping, Quan, Zhanjun
Ecological indicators 2019 v.107 pp. 105458
adverse effects, cities, ecological restoration, normalized difference vegetation index, socioeconomics, sustainable development, urban areas, urbanization, vegetation cover, China
A better understanding the effects of urbanization on vegetation is vital to promoting the sustainable development of cities in China, which has also experienced the world’s most remarkable urbanization during the past decades. This paper used satellite-derived night light, vegetation index, and socio-economic data to analyze spatio-temporal patterns of vegetation changes and evaluate the influence of urbanization on vegetation cover in 46 Chinese metropolises over the last four decades. To examine the effects of urbanization on vegetation and its valid distance, we proposed a new method of comparing three indicators, namely, annual average normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), long-term trend of NDVI change and the proportion of pixels characterized by significant change in NDVI between built-up areas and its multiple buffer zones. The results showed that the effects of urbanization on vegetation have obvious spatial differences. Urbanization generally resulted in the decrease of vegetation coverage in built-up areas for most of China’s central and eastern metropolises, while in Western China, usually restricted by natural conditions, the urbanization usually improved vegetation coverage. The rates of increase in NDVI were significant lower than that of the buffer zones for most cities in central and eastern China. Urbanized areas of most cities located in central and eastern China had a higher percent of vegetation pixels, representing degradation than that in the buffer zones. The opposite was true for pixels representing vegetation restoration. The changes of NDVI in the cities in Western China were basically contrary to those in central and eastern China. The impacts of urbanization on vegetation are stage-specific. With the continuous progress of urbanization level, the adverse effect of urbanization on vegetation were gradually diminished or even disappeared. Cities with higher nighttime light levels appeared to have less vegetation coverage in the early years, and negative correlations between mean NDVI and the mean digital number value have become weak in more recent years. The changes in NDVI in urbanized areas of most cities significantly followed a ‘U’ shape. This phenomenon may further suggest that positive effects of urbanization become more obvious over time during advanced urbanization. The spatial scope of the impacts of urbanization on vegetation was beyond the urban built-up areas, and the effect intensity appeared to attenuate as the buffer distance became further away from the urbanized area. The valid distance of impacts of urbanization on vegetation is generally about 30–40 km.