Urban Land Use Change Effects on Below and Aboveground Carbon Stocks—a Global Perspective and Future Research Needs

Monday, 15 December 2014
Richard Vincent Pouyat, U.S. Forest service, Washington, DC, United States, Yujuan Chen, FAO, United Nations, Rome, Italy, Ian Yesilonis, U.S. Forest Service, Baltimore, MD, United States and Susan Day, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, United States
Land use change (LUC) has a significant impact on both above- and below-ground carbon (C) stocks; however, little is known about the net effects of urban LUC on the C cycle and climate system. Moreover, as climate change becomes an increasingly pressing concern, there is growing evidence that urban policy and management decisions can have significant regional impacts on C dynamics. Soil organic carbon (SOC) varies significantly across ecoregions at global and continental scales due to differential sensitivity of primary production, substrate quality, and organic matter decay to changes in temperature and soil moisture. These factors are highly modified by urban LUC due to vegetation removal, soil relocation and disruption, pollution, urban heat island effects, and increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations. As a result, on a global scale urban LUC differentially affects the C cycle from ecoregion to ecoregion.

For urban ecosystems, the data collected thus far suggests urbanization can lead to both an increase and decrease in soil C pools and fluxes, depending on the native ecosystem being impacted by urban development. For example, in drier climates, urban landscapes accumulate higher C densities than the native ecosystems they replaced. Results suggest also that soil C storage in urban ecosystems is highly variable with very high (> 20.0) and low (< 2.0) C densities (kg m-2 to a 1 m depth) present in the landscape at any one time. Moreover, similar to non-urban soils, total SOC densities are consistently 2-fold greater than aboveground stocks. For those soils with low SOC densities, there is potential to increase C sequestration through management, but specific urban related management practices need to be evaluated. In addition, urban LUC is a human-driven process and thus can be modified or adjusted to reduce its impacts on the C cycle. For example, policies that influence development patterns, population density, management practices, and other human factors can greatly ameliorate the impact of urban LUC on the C cycle. However, even with the recent and rapid expansion of newly acquired data, the net effects of urban LUC on C stocks and fluxes have not been comprehensively addressed. Furthermore, how sensitive these changes are to urban planning, policy decisions, and site management needs to be explored.