Forecasts of habitat loss and fragmentation due to urban growth are sensitive to source of input data

Alexandra D. Syphard, Keith C. Clarke, Janet Franklin, Helen M. Regan, Mark Mcginnis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


The conversion of natural habitat to urban settlements is a primary driver of biodiversity loss, and species' persistence is threatened by the extent, location, and spatial pattern of development. Urban growth models are widely used to anticipate future development and to inform conservation management, but the source of spatial input to these models may contribute to uncertainty in their predictions. We compared two sources of historic urban maps, used as input for model calibration, to determine how differences in definition and scale of urban extent affect the resulting spatial predictions from a widely used urban growth model for San Diego County, CA under three conservation scenarios. The results showed that rate, extent, and spatial pattern of predicted urban development, and associated habitat loss, may vary substantially depending on the source of input data, regardless of how much land is excluded from development. Although the datasets we compared both represented urban land, different types of land use/land cover included in the definition of urban land and different minimum mapping units contributed to the discrepancies. Varying temporal resolution of the input datasets also contributed to differences in projected rates of development. Differential predicted impacts to vegetation types illustrate how the choice of spatial input data may lead to different conclusions relative to conservation. Although the study cannot reveal whether one dataset is better than another, modelers should carefully consider that geographical reality can be represented differently, and should carefully choose the definition and scale of their data to fit their research objectives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1882-1893
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2011


  • Conservation
  • Land use/land cover
  • Landscape metrics
  • Southern California
  • Spatial pattern
  • Urban growth model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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