Quantifying the speed, growth modes, and landscape pattern changes of urbanization: A hierarchical patch dynamics approach

Cheng Li, Junxiang Li, Jianguo Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

144 Scopus citations


Urbanization transforms landscape structure and profoundly affects biodiversity and ecological processes. To understand and solve these ecological problems, at least three aspects of spatiotemporal patterns of urbanization need to be quantified: the speed, urban growth modes, and resultant changes in landscape pattern. In this study, we quantified these spatiotemporal patterns of urbanization in the central Yangtze River Delta region, China from 1979 to 2008, based on a hierarchical patch dynamics framework that guided the research design and the analysis with landscape metrics. Our results show that the urbanized area in the study region increased exponentially during the 30 years at the county, prefectural, and regional levels, with increasing speed down the urban hierarchy. Three growth modes-infilling, edge-expanding, and leapfrogging-operated concurrently and their relative dominance shifted over time. As urbanization progressed, patch density and edge density generally increased, and the connectivity of urban patches in terms of the average nearest neighbor distance also increased. While landscape-level structural complexity also tended to increase, the shape of individual patches became increasingly regular. Our results suggest that whether urban landscapes are becoming more homogenous or heterogeneous may be dependent on scale in time and space as well as landscape metrics used. The speed, growth modes, and landscape pattern are related to each other in complicated fashions. This complex relationship can be better understood by conceptualizing urbanization not simply as a dichotomous diffusion-coalescence switching process, but as a spiraling process of shifting dominance among multiple growth modes: the wax and wane of infilling, edge-expansion, and leapfrog across the landscape.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1875-1888
Number of pages14
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Diffusion-coalescence hypothesis
  • Hierarchical patch dynamics
  • Landscape pattern analysis
  • Landscape structural homogenization
  • Urban growth modes
  • Urbanization
  • Yangtze River Delta, China

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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