" BES Project Abstracts 2005
Institute of Ecosystem Studies

2005 BES Annual Meeting Presentation and Poster Abstracts

Reconceptualizing land cover in urban areas to improve understanding of landscape structure and ecosystem function
Mary Cadenasso and Steward Pickett
Abstract: Cities are coupled human-natural systems and are characteristically heterogeneous. To understand cities as ecosystems, the heterogeneity of the system must be described and quantified so that system structure can be linked to ecosystem function. Land use and land cover are frequently used as coarse descriptors of landscape heterogeneity. Available classifications, however, are inadequate to capture the coupled nature of urban areas and their heterogeneity. Therefore, traditional views of land use/land cover need to be reconceptualized for application to an urban system. We have developed a novel classification for urban systems that is focused on land cover. In this new system, termed HERCULES (High Ecological Resolution Classification for Urban Landscapes and Environmental Systems), land cover is classified based on the arrangement of built structures, vegetation, and impervious surfaces. Unique combinations of these three elements define the integrated classes. The cover and type of each element is allowed to vary independently of the other elements, giving the classification the flexibility needed to characterize complex coupled systems. HERCULES has been applied to the Gwynns Falls watershed using high resolution digital air photography. We demonstrate how the relationship of land cover and nitrate yield is improved by using HERCULES to characterize landscape structure compared to using a standard land use classification.