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Encyclopedia > Landscape ecology

Landscape ecology is a sub-discipline of ecology and geography that address how spatial variation in the landscape affects ecological processes such as the distribution and flow of energy, materials and individuals in the environment (which, in turn, may influence the distribution of landscape "elements" themselves such as hedgerows). Landscape ecology typically deals with problems in an applied and holistic context. The term landscape ecology was coined by Carl Troll, a German geographer in 1939 (Troll 1939). He developed this terminology and many early concepts of landscape ecology as part of his early work applying aerial photograph interpretation to studies of interactions between environment and vegetation. Ernst Haeckel coined the term oekologie in 1866. ... Holism (from holos, a Greek word meaning all, entire, total) is the idea that all the properties of a given system (biological, chemical, social, economic, mental, linguistic, etc. ... Carl Troll (* 24 December 1899 in Gabersee, † 21 July 1975 in Bonn), was a German geographer, brother of botanist Wilhelm Troll From 1919 until 1922 Troll studied amongst other biology, chemistry, geology, geography and physics at the Universität in München. ...

One central landscape ecology theory originated from MacArthur & Wilson's The Theory of Island Biogeography. This work considered the assembly of flora and fauna on islands as the result of colonization from a mainland stock and stochastic extinction. The concepts of island biogeography were generalized from physical islands to abstract patches of habitat by Levins' metapopulation model. This generalization spurred the growth of landscape ecology by providing conservation biologists a new tool to assess how habitat fragmentation affects population viability. Recent growth of landscape ecology owes much to the development of geographic information systems (GIS) technology and the availability of large-extent habitat data (e.g. remotely sensed satellite images or aerial photography). E.O. Wilson with Dynastes hercules E. O. Wilson, or Edward Osborne Wilson, (born June 10, 1929) is an entomologist and biologist known for his work on ecology, evolution, and sociobiology. ... Theory of explaining species diversity on islands that was first proposed in a Princeton Monograph co-authored by Robert MacArthur and Edward O. Wilson in 1967. ... The Dodo, shown here in illustration, is an often-cited[1] example of extinction. ... The study of island biogeography is a field within biogeography that attempts to establish and explain the factors that affect the species diversity of a particular community. ... Habitat (from the Latin for it inhabits) is the place where a particular species lives and grows. ... A metapopulation consists of a group of spatially separated populations of the same species which interact at some level. ... Conservation biology, or conservation ecology, is the science of protecting and managing Earths biological diversity. ... Habitat fragmentation is a process of environmental change important in evolution and conservation biology. ... A geographic information system (GIS) is a system for creating, storing, analyzing and managing spatial data and associated attributes. ... Synthetic aperture radar image of Death Valley colored using polarimetry In the broadest sense, remote sensing is the measurement or acquisition of information of an object or phenomenon, by a recording device that is not in physical or intimate contact with the object. ... The Landsat program is the longest running enterprise for acquisition of imagery of Earth from space. ... The Georgian terrace of Royal Crescent (Bath, England) from a hot air balloon Dulles Airport in Reston, Virginia, from an airplane Intersection of E42 and E451 as seen from a Lufthansa Boeing 747 soon after takeoff from Frankfurt International Airport Moreton Island in Queensland, Australia Aerial photography is the taking...

Landscape ecology, a subdiscipline of ecology, addresses the causes and consequences of spatial heterogeneity (Forman 1995). Heterogeneity is the measure of how different parts of a landscape are from one another. Landscape ecology looks at how spatial structure affects organism abundance at the landscape level, as well as the behavior and functioning of the landscape as a whole. This includes the study of the pattern, or the internal order of a landscape, on process, or the continuous operation of functions of organisms (Turner 1989). Landscape ecology also includes geomorphology as applied to the design and architecture of landscapes (Allaby 1998). Geomorphology is the study of how geological formations are responsible for the structure of a landscape. Surface of the Earth Geomorphology is the study of landforms, including their origin and evolution, and the processes that shape them. ...


Development as a discipline

The term “landscape ecology” is first attributed to the German geographer Carl Troll (1939). Landscape ecology developed in Europe from historical planning on human-dominated landscapes. In North America, concepts from general ecology theory were integrated. While general ecology theory and its sub-disciplines focused on the study of more homogenous, discrete community units organized in a hierarchical structure (typically as populations, species, and communities), landscape ecology built upon heterogeneity in space and time, and frequently included human-caused landscape changes in theory and application of concepts (Sanderson and Harris 2000). Carl Troll (* 24 December 1899 in Gabersee, † 21 July 1975 in Bonn), was a German geographer, brother of botanist Wilhelm Troll From 1919 until 1922 Troll studied amongst other biology, chemistry, geology, geography and physics at the Universität in München. ... In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biodiversity. ...

By 1980, landscape ecology was a discrete, established discipline, marked by the organization of the International Association for Landscape Ecology (IALE) in 1982 and landmark book publications defining the scope and goals of the discipline, including Naveh and Lieberman (1984) and Forman and Godron (1986) (Ryszkowski 2002). Forman (1995) wrote that although study of “the ecology of spatial configuration at the human scale” was barely a decade old, there was strong potential for theory development and application of the conceptual framework. Today, theory and application of landscape ecology continues to develop through a need for innovative applications in a changing landscape and environment. Landscape ecology today relies more on advanced technologies such as remote sensing, GIS, and simulation models, with associated development of powerful quantitative methods to examine the interactions of patterns and processes (Turner et al. 2001). An example would be determining the amount of carbon present in the soil based on landform over a landscape, derived from GIS maps, vegetation types, and rainfall data for a region. A geographic information system (GIS) is a system for managing data that has a spatial specialized form of an information system. ... A computer simulation or a computer model is a computer program that attempts to simulate an abstract model of a particular system. ... The carbon cycle is the biogeochemical cycle by which carbon is exchanged between the biosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere of the Earth (other astronomical objects may have similar carbon cycles, but nothing is yet known about them). ... Vegetation is a general term for the plant life of a region; it refers to the ground cover provided by plants, and is, by far, the most abundant biotic element of the biosphere. ... In meteorology, precipitation is any kind of water that falls from the sky as part of the weather. ...

Relationship to ecological theory

Although landscape ecology theory may be slightly outside of the “classical and preferred domain of scientific disciplines” because of the large, heterogeneous areas of study (Sanderson and Harris 2000), general ecology theory is central to landscape ecology theory in many aspects. Landscape ecology is comprised of four main principles, which include: 1. the development and dynamics of spatial heterogeneity, 2. interactions and exchanges across heterogeneous landscapes, 3. influences of spatial heterogeneity on biotic and abiotic processes, and 4. the management of spatial heterogeneity. The main difference from traditional ecological studies, which frequently assume that systems are spatially homogenous, is the consideration of spatial patterns (Turner and Gardner 1991). Ernst Haeckel coined the term oekologie in 1866. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ...

Important terms in Landscape ecology

Landscape ecology not only embraced a new vocabulary of terms but also incorporated general ecology theory terms in new ways. Many of the terms used in landscape ecology are as interconnected and interrelated as the discipline itself. Landscape can be defined as an area containing two or more ecosystems in close proximity (Sanderson and Harris 2000). An ecosystem, a contraction of ecological and system, refers to the collection of components and processes that comprise, and govern the behavior of, some defined subset of the biosphere. ...

Scale and heterogeneity (incorporating composition, structure, and function)

A main concept in landscape ecology is scale. Scale represents the real world as translated onto a map, in the relationship between distance on a map image and the corresponding distance on earth (Malczewski 1999). Scale is also the spatial or temporal measure of an object or a process (Turner and Gardner 1991), or level or degree of spatial resolution (Forman 1995). Components of scale include composition, structure, and function, which are all important ecological concepts. Applied to landscape ecology, composition refers to the number of patch types (see below) represented on a landscape, and their relative abundance. For example, the amount of forest or wetland, the length of forest edge, or the density of roads can be aspects of landscape composition. Structure is determined by the composition, the configuration, and the proportion of different patches across the landscape, while function refers to how each element in the landscape interacts based on its life cycle events (Turner and Gardner 1991). Pattern is the term for the contents and internal order of a heterogeneous area of land (Forman and Godron 1986). Eucalyptus Forest at Swifts Creek in East Gippsland, Victoria, Australia. ... A subtropical wetland in Florida, USA, with an endangered American Crocodile. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ...

A landscape with structure and pattern implies that it has spatial heterogeneity, or the uneven, non-random distribution of objects across the landscape (Forman 1995). Heterogeneity is a key element of landscape ecology that separates this discipline from other branches of ecology.

Patch and mosaic

Patch, a term fundamental to landscape ecology, is defined as a relatively homogeneous area that differs from its surroundings (Forman 1995). Patches are the basic unit of the landscape that change and fluctuate, a process called patch dynamics. Patches have a definite shape and spatial configuration, and can be described compositionally by internal variables such as number of trees, number of tree species, height of trees, or other similar measurements (Forman 1995).

Matrix is the “background ecological system” of a landscape with a high degree of connectivity. Connectivity is the measure of how connected or spatially continuous a corridor, network, or matrix is (Forman 1995). For example, a forested landscape (the matrix) with fewer gaps in forest cover (open patches) will have higher connectivity. Corridors have important functions as strips of a particular type of landscape differing from adjacent land on both sides (Forman 1995). A network is an interconnected system of corridors while mosaic describes the pattern of patches, corridors and matrix that form a landscape in its entirety (Forman 1995). Connectivity is the property of a device such as a PC, peripheral, PDA, mobile phone, robot, home appliance, or car that enables it to be connected, generally to a PC or another device without the need of a PC - autonomously. ...

Boundary and edge

Landscape patches have a boundary between them which can be defined or fuzzy (Sanderson and Harris 2000). The zone composed of the edges of adjacent ecosystems is the boundary (Forman 1995). Edge means the portion of an ecosystem near its perimeter, where influences of the adjacent patches can cause an environmental difference between the interior of the patch and its edge. This edge effect includes a distinctive species composition or abundance in the outer part of the landscape patch (Forman 1995). For example, when a landscape is a mosaic of perceptibly different types, such as a forest adjacent to a grassland, the edge is the location where the two types adjoin. In a continuous landscape, such as a forest giving way to open woodland, the exact edge location is fuzzy and is sometimes determined by a local gradient exceeding a threshold, such as the point where the tree cover falls below thirty-five percent (Turner and Gardner 1991). An Inner Mongolian Grassland. ...

Ecotones, ecoclines, and ecotopes

A type of boundary is the ecotone, or the transitional zone between two communities (Allaby 1998). Ecotones can arise naturally, such as a lakeshore, or can be human-created, such as a cleared agricultural field from a forest (Allaby 1998). The ecotonal community retains characteristics of each bordering community and often contains species not found in the adjacent communities. Classic examples of ecotones include fencerows; forest to marshlands transitions; forest to grassland transitions; or land-water interfaces such as riparian zones in forests. Characteristics of ecotones include vegetational sharpness, physiognomic change, occurrence of a spatial community mosaic, many exotic species, ecotonal species, spatial mass effect, and species richness higher or lower than either side of the ecotone (Walker et al. 2003). An ecotone is a transition area between two adjacent ecological communities (ecosystems). ... Rainforests are among the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth Biodiversity or biological diversity is the diversity of life. ...

An ecocline is another type of landscape boundary, but it is a gradual and continuous change in environmental conditions of an ecosystem or community. Ecoclines help explain the distribution and diversity of organisms within a landscape because certain organisms survive better under certain conditions, which change along the ecocline. They contain heterogeneous communities which are considered more environmentally stable than those of ecotones (Attrill and Rundle 2002). An ecocline refers to the gradual changes in species abundance along a gradient of environmental factors. ...

An ecotope is a spatial term representing the smallest ecologically-distinct unit in mapping and classification of landscapes (Forman 1995). Relatively homogeneous, they are spatially-explicit landscape units used to stratify landscapes into ecologically distinct features for measurement and mapping of landscape structure, function, and change over time, and to examine the effects of disturbance and fragmentation. Ecotopes are the smallest ecologically-distinct landscape features in a landscape mapping and classification system. ...

Disturbance and fragmentation

Disturbance is an event that significantly alters the pattern of variation in the structure or function of a system, while fragmentation is the breaking up of a habitat, ecosystem, or land-use type into smaller parcels (Forman 1995). Disturbance is generally considered a natural process. Fragmentation causes land transformation, an important current process in landscapes as more and more development occurs. Habitat fragmentation is a process of environmental change important in evolution and conservation biology. ...

Landscape ecology theory

Elements of landscape ecology theory

Landscape ecology, as a theory, stresses the role of human impacts on landscape structures and functions and proposes ways for restoring degraded landscapes (Naveh and Lieberman 1984). Landscape ecology explicitly includes humans as entities that cause functional changes on the landscape (Sanderson and Harris 2000). Landscape ecology theory includes the landscape stability principle, which emphasizes the importance of landscape structural heterogeneity in developing resistance to disturbances, recovery from disturbances, and promoting total system stability (Forman and Godron 1986). This principle is a major contribution to general ecological theories which highlight the importance of relationships among the various components of the landscape. Integrity of landscape components helps maintain resistance to external threats, including development and land transformation by human activity (Turner et al. 2001). Analysis of land use changes has included a strongly geographical approach within landscape ecology. This has lead to acceptance of the idea of multifunctional properties of landscapes (Ryszkowski 2002). There are still calls for a more unified theory of landscape ecology due to differences in professional opinion among landscape ecologists, and the interdisciplinary approach to the discipline (Bastian 2001).

An important related theory is hierarchy theory, which refers to how systems of discrete functional elements operate when linked at two or more scales. For example, a forested landscape might be hierarchically composed of drainage basins, which in turn are composed of local ecosystems or stands, which are in turn composed of individual trees and tree gaps (Forman 1995). Recent theoretical developments in landscape ecology have emphasized the relationship between pattern and process, as well as the effect that changes in spatial scale has on the potential to extrapolate information across scales (Turner and Gardner 1991). Several studies suggest that the landscape has critical thresholds at which ecological processes will show dramatic changes, such as the complete transformation of a landscape by an invasive species with a small change in average temperatures per year which favors the invasive habitat requirements (Turner and Gardner 1991). A drainage basin is the area within the drainage basin divide (yellow outline), and drains the surface runoff and river discharge (blue lines) of a contiguous area. ... Lantana Invasion of abandoned citrus plantation; Moshav Sdey Hemed, Israel; May 2, 2006 The term invasive species refers to a subset of those species defined as introduced species or non-indigenous species. ... Habitat (from the Latin for it inhabits) is the place where a particular species lives and grows. ...

Landscape ecology application

Research directions

Developments in landscape ecology illustrate the important relationships between spatial patterns and ecological processes, and incorporate quantitative methods that link spatial patterns and ecological processes at broad spatial and temporal scales. This linkage of time, space, and environmental change can assist land managers in applying land management plans to solve environmental problems (Turner et al. 2001). The increased attention in recent years on spatial dynamics has highlighted the need for new quantitative methods that can analyze patterns, determine the importance of spatially explicit processes on the landscape, and develop reliable landscape models (Turner and Gardner 1991). Multivariate analysis techniques, a type of statistics incorporating many variables, are frequently used to examine landscape level vegetation patterns. A number of studies in riparian systems and wetlands use a variety of statistical techniques, such as cluster analysis, canonical correspondence analysis (CCA), or detrended correspondence analysis (DCA), for classifying vegetation. Gradient analysis is another way to determine the vegetation structure across a landscape, or to help delineate critical wetland habitat for conservation or mitigation purposes (Lyon and Sagers 1998, Choesin and Boerner 2002). An environment is a complex of external factors that acts on a system and determines its course and form of existence. ... In statistics, in multivariate data, each data point has more than one scalar component, and often one is concerned with correlations between the components. ... A riparian zone schematic from the Everglades. ... Data clustering is a common technique for data analysis, which is used in many fields, including machine learning, data mining, pattern recognition, image analysis and bioinformatics. ... Gradient analysis is an empirical analytical method used in plant community ecology to relate the abundances of various species in a plant community to various environmental gradients. ...

Climate change is another major component in structuring current research in landscape ecology. Ecotones, as a basic unit in landscape studies, may have significance for management under climate change scenarios, since change effects are likely to be seen at ecotones first because of the unstable nature of a fringe habitat (Walker et al. 2003). Research in northern regions has examined landscape ecological processes, such as the accumulation of snow during winter, snow melting, freeze-thaw action, percolation, soil moisture variation, and temperature regimes through long-term measurements in Norway (Loffler and Finch 2005). The study analyzes gradients across space and time between ecosystems of the central high mountains to determine relationships between distribution patterns of animals in their environment. Looking at where animals live, and how vegetation shifts over time, may provide insight into changes in snow and ice over long periods of time across the landscape as a whole. Variations in CO2, temperature and dust from the Vostok ice core over the last 400,000 years Climate change refers to the variation in the Earths global climate or in regional climates over time. ...

Other landscape-scale studies maintain that human impact is likely the main determinant of landscape pattern over much of the globe (Wilson and King 1995). Landscapes may become substitutes for biodiversity measures because plant and animal composition differs between samples taken from sites within different landscape categories. Taxa, or different species, can “leak” from one habitat into another, which has implications for landscape ecology. As human land use practices expand, and continue to increase the proportion of edges in landscapes, the effects of this leakage across edges on assemblage integrity may become more significant and important in conservation because taxa may be conserved across landscape levels, if not at local levels (Dangerfield et al. 2003). Rainforests are among the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth Biodiversity or biological diversity is the diversity of life. ...

Relationship to other disciplines

Landscape ecology has important links to application-oriented disciplines such as agriculture and forestry. In agriculture, landscape ecology has introduced new options for the control and management of environmental threats brought about by the intensification of agricultural practices. Agriculture has always been a strong human impact on ecosystems (Ryszkowski 2002). In forestry, changes in consumer needs have changed conservation and use of forested landscapes from structuring stands for fuelwood and timber to ordering stands across landscapes to enhance aesthetics, habitats and biological diversity. Landscape forestry provides methods, concepts, and analytic procedures for shifting management from traditional to landscape forestry (Boyce 1995). Landscape ecology has been cited as a major contributor to the development of fisheries biology as a distinct biological science discipline (Magnuson 1991), and is frequently incorporated in study design for wetland delineation in hydrology (Attrill and Rundle 2002). A decidous beech forest in Slovenia. ... A lobster boat unloading its catch in Ilfracombe harbour, North Devon, England. ... Water covers 70% of the Earths surface. ...

See also

Biogeography is the science which deals with patterns of species distribution and the processes that result in such patterns. ... Ernst Haeckel coined the term oekologie in 1866. ... Ecotopes are the smallest ecologically-distinct landscape features in a landscape mapping and classification system. ... In France, the schéma directeur daménagement et de gestion des eaux (SDAGE) aims to put into effect the principles of the law of 3 January 1992 on the level of the major hydrographic basins. ... Historical Ecology is a fairly new field of study that takes a human/nature dialectical approach to the history of landscapes, cultures, and regions. ...


  • Allaby, M. 1998. Oxford Dictionary of Ecology. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.
  • Attrill, M.J. and S.D. Rundle. 2002. Ecotone or ecocline: ecological boundaries in estuaries. Estuarine, Coastal, and Shelf Science 55:929-936.
  • Boyce, S.G. 1995. Landscape Forestry. John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, NY.
  • Dangerfield, J.M., A.J. Pik, D.Britton, A. Holmes, M. Gillings, I. Oliver, D. Briscoe, and A. J. Beattie. 2003. Patterns of invertebrate biodiversity across a natural edge. Austral Ecology 28:227-236.
  • Forman, R.T.T. and M. Godron. 1986. Landscape Ecology. John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, NY, USA.
  • Forman, R.T.T. 1995. Land Mosaics: The Ecology of Landscapes and Regions. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
  • Loffler, J. and O.-D. Finch. 2005. Spatio-temporal gradients between high mountain ecosystems of central Norway. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research 37:499-513.
  • Lyon, J. and C. L. Sagers, C.L. 1998. Structure of herbaceous plant assemblages in a forested riparian landscape. Plant Ecology 138:1-16.
  • Magnuson, J.J. 1991. Fish and fisheries ecology. Ecological Applications 1:13-26.
  • Malczewski, J. 1999. GIS and Multicriteria Decision Analysis. John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, NY, USA.
  • MacArthur, Robert H. and Wilson, Edward O. The Theory of Island Biogeography Princeton University Press. 2001 (reprint) ISBN 0-691-08836-5
  • Naveh, Z. and A. Lieberman. 1984. Landscape ecology: theory and application. Springer-Verlag, New York, NY, USA.
  • Ryszkowski, L. (ed.). 2002. Landscape Ecology in Agroecosystems Management. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, USA.
  • Sanderson, J. and L. D. Harris (eds.). 2000. Landscape Ecology: A Top-Down Approach. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, Florida, USA.
  • Troll, C. 1939. Luftbildplan und ökologische Bodenforschung (Aerial photography and ecological studies of the earth). Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für Erdkunde, Berlin: 241-298.
  • Turner, M.G. 1989. Landscape ecology: the effect of pattern on process. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 20:171-197.
  • Turner, M.G. and R. H. Gardner (eds.). 1991. Quantitative Methods in Landscape Ecology. Springer-Verlag, New York, NY, USA.
  • Turner, M.G., R. H. Gardner and R. V. O'Neill, R.V. 2001. Landscape Ecology in Theory and Practice. Springer-Verlag, New York, NY, USA.
  • Walker, S., W. J. Barstow, J. B. Steel, G. L. Rapson, B. Smith, W. M. King, and Y. H. Cottam. 2003. Properties of ecotones: evidence from five ecotones objectively determined from a coastal vegetation gradient. Journal of Vegetation Science 14:579-590.
  • Wilson, J.B. and W. M. King. 1995. Human-mediated vegetation switches as processes in landscape ecology. Landscape Ecology 10:191-196.

External links

  • International Association for Landscape Ecology
  • Landscape Ecology - A major scientific journal on Landscape Ecology
  • U.S. Regional Association of the International Association for Landscape Ecology
Physical geography
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Biogeography · Climatology & paleoclimatology · Coastal/Marine studies · Geodesy · Geomorphology · Glaciology · Hydrology & Hydrography · Landscape ecology · Limnology · Oceanography · Palaeogeography · Pedology · Quaternary Studies

  Results from FactBites:
Landscape Ecology (133 words)
Landscape ecology is the study of how ecosystems are arranged and how their arrangements affect the wildlife and environmental conditions that comprise them.
An ecologist might study a population of wildlife species in a given habitat, while a landscape ecologist looks at how the holistic patterns of the land, such as its topography, water, forest cover, and human uses, affect wildlife populations.
As a discipline, landscape ecology is quite young, but already many conservation biologists have found its essential elements extremely useful in their work.
BIGpedia - Landscape ecology - Encyclopedia and Dictionary Online (234 words)
Landscape ecology typically deals with problems in an applied and holistic context.
The term landscape ecology was coined by Carl Troll, a German geographer in 1939 (Troll 1939).
He developed this terminology and many early concepts of landscape ecology as part of his early work applying aerial photograph interpretation to studies of interactions between environment and vegetation.
  More results at FactBites »



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