Urbanization Increases Grassland Carbon Pools: Effects Of Landscaping In Colorado's Front Range


  • Nancy E. Golubiewski

    1. Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0216 USA
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    • 1 Present address: New Zealand Centre for Ecological Economics (Massey University and Landcare Research), Private Bag 11 052, Palmerston North, New Zealand. E-mail: GolubiewskiN@landcareresearch.co.nz

  • Corresponding Editor: J. M. Stark.


During the past few decades, urban and suburban developments have grown at unprecedented rates and extents with unknown consequences for ecosystem function. Carbon pools of soil and vegetation on landscaped properties were examined in the Front Range of Colorado, USA, in order to characterize vegetation and soils found in urban green spaces; analyze their aboveground biomass, vegetative C storage, and soil C storage; and compare these suburban ecosystem properties to their counterparts in native grassland and cultivated fields.

Anthropogenic activities leave clear signatures on all three C compartments measured. Management level dominates the response of grass production, biomass, and N tissue concentration. This, in turn, influences the amount of C and N both stored in and harvested from sites. The site age dominates the amount of woody biomass as well as soil C and N. Soil texture only secondarily affects total soil carbon and total bulk density.

Established urban green spaces harbor larger C pools, more than double in some cases, than native grasslands or agricultural fields on a per-area basis. Lawn grass produces more biomass and stores more C than local prairie or agricultural fields. Introduced woody vegetation comprises a substantial C pool in urban green spaces and represents a new ecosystem feature. After an initial decrease with site development, soil organic carbon (SOC) pools surpass those in grasslands within two decades. In addition to the marked increase of C pools through time, a shift in storage from belowground to aboveground occurs. Whereas grasslands store ~90% of C belowground, urban green spaces store a decreasing proportion of the total C belowground in soils through time, reaching ~70% 30–40 years after construction. Despite the substantial increase in C pools in this urban area, it is important to recognize that this shift is distinct from C sequestration since it does not account for a total C budget, including increased anthropogenic C emissions from these sites.