Historical changes in tree cover and ecosystem services: estimating environmental quality over time

Authors: Mary Ann Cunningham*, Vassar College, Jennifer Rubbo, Environmental Cooperative, Vassar College
Topics: Biogeography, Land Use and Land Cover Change, Environment
Keywords: historical mapping, iTree, ecosystem services, carbon sequestration, urban ecosystems, tree cover, tree canopy
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Jackson, Marriott, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Tree canopy cover is a central factor in assessments of ecosystem services. Mapping historical changes in canopy cover and other land cover can give insights into shifts in ecosystem services such as carbon capture, pollutant capture, or stream runoff. These questions are of interest in both urban and rural areas, but assessments are less frequent in urban contexts. As part of a natural resources inventory for the city of Poughkeepsie, NY, we digitized historical tree canopy, shrubs, lawn, and built land cover. We also used the program iTree to approximate ecosystem services for current and historical conditions. Our aim was to understand 1) effectiveness of different approaches to historical landscape mapping, 2) changes in green space and ecosystem services in the city, suburbs, and exurbs 3) how changes differed in low-income and high-income parts of the city. We find that different approaches provide complementary kinds of information. Income differences are associated with patterns of natural resources and ecosystem services, both in and around urban areas. Further, growth and de-densification of cities has affected natural resources and ecosystem services, both for better and for worse, in exurban areas. Because recovery of canopy takes decades after urban expansion, ecosystem services recover over generations. Thus destruction and recovery happen at altogether different spatial and temporal scales, and recovery provides resources for future, not present, generations of residents.

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