Suburban Sprawl and Vacation Home Development

Looking out an airplane window when flying over the eastern portion of the U.S., you can see networks of roadways, housing developments, and strip malls carved out of forested land. Of course their construction consumes local habitat, but the effects of suburban sprawl and other forms of development may affect the area in secondary ways. Along forest edges abutting developed areas, the light, temperature, and moisture regime is altered, affecting populations of understory plants and making the area of ‘interior’ forest even smaller than it appears. Research in our lab has shown that the pollinators servicing ginseng are different, and less effective, near the edges of the forest. Additionally, roadways and housing developments are often corridors for invasive species,1 particularly when non-native species are planted as ornamentals in yards and lawns. Land conversion from forest to suburban lots is also likely to increase local densities of white-tailed deer. Fragmentation of forested habitat may also disrupt gene flow among populations, potentially reducing within-population genetic diversity.2

Mosaic of forests, fields, and edges in suburban-rural interface
Photo from Google Earth

References

1Wixted and McGraw 2008
2Mooney and McGraw 2007