Land fragmentation under rapid urbanization: A cross-site analysis of Southwestern cities

Abigail York, Milan Shrestha, Christopher Boone, Sainan Zhang, John A. Harrington, Thomas J. Prebyl, Amaris Swann, Michael Agar, Michael F. Antolin, Barbara Nolen, John B. Wright, Rhonda Skaggs

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Explosive population growth and increasing demand for rural homes and lifestyles fueled exurbanization and urbanization in the western USA over the past decades. Using National Land Cover Data we analyzed land fragmentation trends from 1992 to 2001 in five southwestern cities associated with Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites. We observed two general fragmentation trends: expansion of the urbanized area leading to fragmentation in the exurban and peri-urban regions and decreased fragmentation associated with infill in the previously developed urban areas. We identified three fragmentation patterns, riparian, polycentric, and monocentric, that reflect the recent western experience with growth and urbanization. From the literature and local expert opinion, we identified five relevant drivers - water provisioning, population dynamics, transportation, topography, and institutions - that shape land use decision-making and fragmentation in the southwest. In order to assess the relative importance of each driver on urbanization, we linked historical site-specific driver information obtained through literature reviews and archival analyses to the observed fragmentation patterns. Our work highlights the importance of understanding land use decision-making drivers in concert and throughout time, as historic decisions leave legacies on landscapes that continue to affect land form and function, a process often forgotten in a region and era of blinding change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)429-455
Number of pages27
JournalUrban Ecosystems
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2011


  • Exurbanization
  • Land fragmentation
  • The US Southwest
  • Urban ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Urban Studies


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