Fine-scale information about urban vegetation and social-ecological relationships is crucial to inform both urban planning and ecological research, and high spatial resolution imagery is a valuable tool for assessing urban areas. However, urban ecology and remote sensing have largely focused on cities in temperate zones. Our goal was to characterize urban vegetation cover with sub-meter (<1 m) resolution aerial imagery, and identify social-ecological relationships of urban vegetation patterns in a tropical city, the San Juan Metropolitan Area, Puerto Rico. Our specific objectives were to (1) map vegetation cover using sub-meter spatial resolution (0.3-m) imagery, (2) quantify the amount of residential and non-residential vegetation, and (3) investigate the relationship between patterns of urban vegetation vs. socioeconomic and environmental factors. We found that 61% of the San Juan Metropolitan Area was green and that our combination of high spatial resolution imagery and object-based classification was highly successful for extracting vegetation cover in a moist tropical city (97% accuracy). In addition, simple spatial pattern analysis allowed us to separate residential from non-residential vegetation with 76% accuracy, and patterns of residential and non-residential vegetation varied greatly across the city. Both socioeconomic (e.g., population density, building age, detached homes) and environmental variables (e.g., topography) were important in explaining variations in vegetation cover in our spatial regression models. However, important socioeconomic drivers found in cities in temperate zones, such as income and home value, were not important in San Juan. Climatic and cultural differences between tropical and temperate cities may result in different social-ecological relationships. Our study provides novel information for local land use planners, highlights the value of high spatial resolution remote sensing data to advance ecological research and urban planning in tropical cities, and emphasizes the need for more studies in tropical cities.
Read the full article in Ecological Applications.