Research Areas: Land Change Science, Political Ecology, Food Systems, Landscape Ecology, International Development, Remote Sensing, GIS, Volunteered Geographic Information, Public Participation GIS


Beyond Production: Agricultural intensificaiton and livelihoods in Tanzania

The Kilombero Valley in Tanzania is undergoing rapid changes as numerous programs focus on accelerating the development of the region's commercial agricultural sector. This raises concerns for the conservation objectives in this region that lies in a narrow strip of land between two national parks and a RAMSAR wetland conservation site. Given this position, this area plays an important role in facilitating the movement of animals between conservation areas and supporting ecosystem services, including regulating water flows to a local hydropower station. These conservation areas also play an important role in supporting the livelihoods of the rural population.

In order to better understand the potential implications of future development, this research examines the livelihood strategies in 8 villages across the Kilombero Valley, and assesses the changing patterns in the landscape. Using household livelihood surveys, in-depth interviews, and analysis of satellite imagery, this study unpacks the relationship between human activities and landscape change in the area. While exploring these spatial dimensions of land use and livelihoods, this research also consider how various actors perceive this relationship, and how these perceptions are reflected in resource management and development decisions.

This research is funded by an NSF SBE Dissertation Development and Improvement Grant, a Boren Fellowship, and a Borlaug Fellowship for Global Food Security.

Land Cover Change and Water-related Ecosystem Services in Arizona

The Salt and Verde watersheds in Northern Arizona provide the Phoenix Metropolitan Area with a large portion of its water supply and electricity from hydroelectric power stations. Many of the forests in the watershed are protected and have been subject to fire suppression for decades. As the Forest Service undertakes efforts to thin the canopy in these forests, it raises questions about the external impacts related to changes in water-regulating services. This project modeled how changes in canopy cover affect surface runoff and sedimentation, and in turn assessed the impacts on Arizona's water supplies.

PIs: Charles Perrings and Ann Kinzig, Arizona State University. Funded by Arizona's Technology Research Initiative Fund (TRIF).

Urban Argriculture and Climate Adaptation in Sub-saharan Africa

Food security in urban and peri-urban areas of Africa is a significant challenge because of high sensitivity by the urban poor and middle class to food price spikes, which are linked to global factors including extreme climate events in important cereal producing regions of the world. This research will perform a meta-analysis to evaluate the role that urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) plays in enhancing urban food security in East African and West African cities, and how the provision of food within peri-urban and urban areas affects, and is affected by, climate change. The meta-analysis will also examine the environmental impacts of and environmental services provided by UPA in the context of building more resilient cities. This research effort will help to address the significant knowledge gaps that exist in the global south around urban agriculture's role in and contribution to food and livelihood security.

PI: Shuaib Lwasa, Makerere University, Uganda. Funded by START, part of IDHP's Urbanization and Global Environmental Change (UGEC) project.

Landscape Pattern and the Urban Heat Island

While it is well known that ubranization is transforming land use and land cover with implications for local and regional climate, less is known about the impacts of variations in the specific spatial morphology, i.e. spatial pattern, within urban areas. This research employs from methods in landscape ecology to characterize spatial patterns in high resolution satellite imagery and aerial photography of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. This work considers the legacy effect of historical development patterns on the current urban morphology and quantifies the impacts of differences in spatial pattern on observed land surface temperatures across the city. This research can aid city planners as they consider how to reduce energy demand and water use, and also seek to improve quality of life in Phoenix.

Funded by Central Arizona Phoenix Long Term Ecological Research (CAP-LTER) Graduate Student Grant

Citizen Science in the Age of Neogeography: Leveraging public participation to monitor an arboreal pathogen

Sudden Oak Death, Phytophthora ramorum, is a rapidly spreading arboreal pathogen that has devastated California's oaks. The public showed a great concern in the spread of this disease, and information from the public was key to early detection and tracking of the disease. In order to support the monitoring of the disease and to improve public outreach, the California Oak Mortality Task Force set out to make an online portal for accessing and submitting information on the disease. provides a webGIS platform where the public can report and comment on suspected cases of SOD. The data is stored in a centralized database where it can be accessed and utilized by researchers.

PI: Maggi Kelly, University of California Berkeley. Funded by California Department of Forestry.

Advancing Methods for Assessing Land Use/Cover Change with Fuzzy Classified Maps

Remote sensing analysis commonly faces the problem of mixed pixels, i.e. pixels that span multiple land covers. Multiple methods have emerged to address this problem, seeking to quantify the mixture of classes within the pixel. While quanitfying the mixture of classes within a pixel, these methods do not characterize the location of these classes, introducing uncertainty into land change analyses. Depending on the assumptions about the agreement between the classes in corresponding pixels, the change assessment may overestimate or underestimate the actual change. This work considers different approaches with different underlying assumptions and assesses the uncertainty as pixel size increases.

PI: Gil Pontius, Clark University. Funded by NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program.



Lwasa, Shuaib, Frank Mugagga, Bolanle Wahab, David Simon, John P. Connors, and Corrie Griffith. 2015. A meta-analysis of Urban and peri-urban agriculture and forestry in mediating climate change in East and West African cities. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 13: 68-73. [pdf]

Simonit, Silvio, John P. Connors, James Yoo, Ann Kinzig, and Charles Perrings. 2015. The impact of forest thinning on the reliability of water supply in Central Arizona. PLOS One 10(4). [pdf]

Kane, Kevin, John P. Connors, Christopher Galletti. 2014. Shaping the City: Development Trajectories and Land Cover Patterns in Phoenix, Arizona. Applied Geography 52, 123-134. [pdf]

Yoo, James, Silvio Simonit, John P. Connors, Ann P Kinzig, Charles Perrings. 2014. The valuation of off-site ecosystem service flows: Deforestation, erosion and the amenity value of lakes in Prescott, Arizona. Ecological Economics 97, 74-83. [pdf]

Lwasa, Shuaib, Frank Mugagga, Bolanle Wahab, David Simon, Corrie Griffith, John Connors. 2013. Urban and peri-urban agriculture and forestry: transcending poverty alleviation to mediating climate change. Urban Climate 7: 92-106. [pdf]

Yoo, James, Silvio Simonit, John P. Connors, Ann P. Kinzig, Charles Perrings. 2013. The value of agricultural water rights in agricultural properties in the path of development. Ecological Economics 91, 57-68. [pdf]

Connors, John, Christopher Galletti, and Winston Chow. 2013. Landscape configuration and urban heat island effects: assessing landscape characteristics and land surface temperature in Phoenix, Arizona. Landscape Ecology 28(2). [pdf]

Connors, John, Maggi Kelly, Shufei Lei. 2012. Citizen science in the age of neogeography: utilizing volunteered geographic information for environmental monitoring. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 102(2). [pdf]

Pontius, Jr. Robert Gilmore and John Connors. 2009. Range of categorical associations for comparison of maps with mixed pixels. Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing. [pdf]

Kelly, Maggi, John Connors and Shufei Lei. 2008. Migrating to new web–based geotechnologies for forest monitoring in the Bay Area. The Bay Area Automated Mapping Association Journal 2(2). [pdf]

Book Chapters

John P. Connors, Corrie Griffith, Bolanle Walab, Frank Mugagga, and Camille Nolasco. 2016. Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture: Cultivating Urban Climate Resilience. In Griffith et al. (eds.), Handbook on Urbanization and Global Environmental Change.

Conference Proceedings

Kelly, Maggi, John Connors, Shufei Lei. 2010. OakMapper 2.0: Distributed Participatory Sensing for Monitoring and Management of Sudden Oak Death. In Frankel, S.J.; Kliejunas, J.T.; Palmieri, K.M.,tech. cords. 2010. Proceedings of the Sudden Oak Death Fourth Science Symposium. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW – GTR – 229, Albany, CA: Pacific Southwest Research Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Pp. 334 – 337

Pontius, Jr, Robert Gilmore and John Connors. 2006. Expanding the conceptual, mathematical, and practical methods for map comparison. Conference proceedings of the meeting of Spatial Accuracy 2006. Lisbon, Portugal. 16p.