Development of spontaneous vegetation on reclaimed land in Singapore measured by NDVI

PLoS One. 2021 Jan 28;16(1):e0245220. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0245220. eCollection 2021.


Population and economic growth in Asia has led to increased urbanisation. Urbanisation has many detrimental impacts on ecosystems, especially when expansion is unplanned. Singapore is a city-state that has grown rapidly since independence, both in population and land area. However, Singapore aims to develop as a 'City in Nature', and urban greenery is integral to the landscape. While clearing some areas of forest for urban sprawl, Singapore has also reclaimed land from the sea to expand its coastline. Reclaimed land is usually designated for future urban development, but must first be left for many years to stabilise. During the period of stabilisation, pioneer plant species establish, growing into novel forest communities. The rate of this spontaneous vegetation development has not been quantified. This study tracks the temporal trends of normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), as a proxy of vegetation maturity, on reclaimed land sensed using LANDSAT images. Google Earth Engine was used to mosaic cloud-free annual LANDSAT images of Singapore from 1988 to 2015. Singapore's median NDVI increased by 0.15 from 0.47 to 0.62 over the study period, while its land area grew by 71 km2. Five reclaimed sites with spontaneous vegetation development showed variable vegetation covers, ranging from 6% to 43% vegetated cover in 2015. On average, spontaneous vegetation takes 16.9 years to develop to a maturity of 0.7 NDVI, but this development is not linear and follows a quadratic trajectory. Patches of spontaneous vegetation on isolated reclaimed lands are unlikely to remain forever since they are in areas slated for future development. In the years that these patches exist, they have potential to increase urban greenery, support biodiversity, and provide a host of ecosystem services. With this knowledge on spontaneous vegetation development trajectories, urban planners can harness the resource when planning future developments.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cities / history
  • Ecosystem*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Plants*
  • Singapore
  • Urbanization*

Grant support

This research is supported by the National Research Foundation, Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore under its Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) Programme (NRF2016-ITC001-013).