Rapid urbanization and economic growth in China have accelerated changes in rural settlements and associated land-use types that are expected to alter ecological services and the environment. Relevant studies of the dynamics of rural settlements and corresponding rural land-use changes are in short supply, however, especially in undeveloped areas in China. This study, therefore, investigated the spatio-temporal dynamics of rural settlements and their impacts on other land-use types by using 30 m rural settlement status and dynamic maps from the end of the 1980s to 2010. These maps were generated by visual interpretation with strict product quality control and accuracy. Henan province was selected as a case study of undeveloped regions in China. We examined in particular how the expansion of rural settlements affected cultivated lands and the processes of rural settlement urbanization. This study looked at three periods: the end of the 1980s–2000, 2000–2010, and the end of the 1980s–2010, with two spatial scales of province and prefecture city. Major findings about the rural settlements in Henan from the end of the 1980s to 2010 include (1) the area of rural settlements grew continuously, although the increasing trend slowed; (2) the expansion of rural settlements showed a negative trend contrary to the trend of the urbanization of rural settlements; (3) rural settlement expansion occupied considerable expanse of cultivated lands, which accounted for up to 96% of the total expansion lands; (4) urbanization of rural settlements was the main mode by which rural residential lands vanished, accounting for more than 98% of the lost lands. This study can provide suggestions for the conservation and sustainability of the rural environment and inform reasonable policies on rural development.
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