We explored the process of urbanization in a mountainous area to seek a sustainable urbanization strategy. Previous urbanization research has mainly focused on flat terrain and coastal areas, and urbanization in mountainous areas remains poorly understood. This study integrated geographic information systems, remote sensing, and statistical analysis to quantify landscape patterns dynamics in response to urbanization, with a case study of Mentougou District in Beijing, China from 1985 to 2014. We found that the total built-up area increased along with the population and economic indicators. The built-up area increased by one-third over the study period, with 73.38% of the increase from converted cropland and 12.22% from converted orchard. The urban expansion area was concentrated in the plain sub-region (<200 m elevation, comprising 68.85% of the expansion area). The landscape patterns varied over this period. For the whole region, the low mountain sub-region and the high mountain sub-region, landscape patterns gradually became more heterogeneous and fragmented, but they showed the opposite trend in the plain sub-region. None of the urbanization indicators (population, economic and built-up land area) were significantly correlated with landscape metrics for the whole region, but they were significantly correlated in the plain sub-region. The impacts of urbanization on landscape patterns were mainly focused on the plain sub-region, and the effects in the low mountain and high mountain sub-regions were weak. Future urban development in mountainous areas should focus on the protection of cropland and local industries as part of a sustainable development strategy for the whole region.
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