The Impact of Urban Patterns on Aquatic Ecosystems: An Empirical Analysis in Puget Lowland Sub-Basins
Funding : National Science Foundation
Description: Landscape change associated with urbanization poses major challenges to aquatic ecosystems. Extensive studies have shown that the composition of land cover within a watershed can account for much of the variability in water quality and stream ecological conditions. While several studies have addressed the relationship between watershed urbanization and biotic integrity in streams, few have directly addressed the question of how urban patterns influence ecological conditions. These studies typically correlate changes in ecological conditions with simple aggregated measures of urbanization (e.g., human population density or percent impervious surface). We develop an empirical study of the impact of urban development patterns on stream ecological conditions in forty-two sub-basins in the Puget Sound lowland region on a gradient of urbanization. We hypothesize that ecological conditions in urbanizing landscapes are influenced through biophysical changes by four urban pattern variables: land use intensity, land cover composition, landscape configuration, and connectivity of the impervious area. Using community measures of benthic macroinvertebrates as indicators of in-stream biotic integrity we examined the relationships between urban development patterns and ecological conditions in these basins. Significant statistical relationships were found between landscape patterns—both amount and configuration of impervious area and forest land—and biotic integrity of streams suggesting that patterns of urban development matter to aquatic ecosystems.