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21.3: Applications of Landscape Ecology

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    Research directions

    Developments in landscape ecology illustrate the important relationships between spatial patterns and ecological processes. These developments 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 managers in applying plans to solve environmental problems.[5] 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, and develop reliable models.[33] Multivariate analysis techniques are frequently used to examine landscape level vegetation patterns. Vegetation classification is the process of classifying and mapping the vegetation over an area of the earth's surface and is often performed by state based agencies as part of land use, resource and environmental management. Many different methods of vegetation classification have been used but vegetation classification mapping is usually now done using geographic information systems (GIS) software.  Studies use statistical techniques for classifying vegetation based on a combination of remote sensing variables. For an example of a vegetation classification system see the United States Geological Survey Land Cover website.  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 (Choesin and Boerner 2002).[41]

    Climate change is another major component in structuring current research in landscape ecology.[42] 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.[38] Research in northern regions has examined landscape ecological processes, such as the accumulation of snow, melting, freeze-thaw action, percolation, soil moisture variation, and temperature regimes through long-term measurements in Norway.[43] 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.

    Other landscape-scale studies maintain that human impact is likely the main determinant of landscape pattern over much of the globe.[44] 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 in conservation. This is because taxa may be conserved across landscape levels, if not at local levels.[45]

    Land change modeling

    Land change modeling is an application of landscape ecology designed to predict future changes in land use. Land change models are used in urban planning, geography, GIS, and other disciplines to gain a clear understanding of the course of a landscape.[46] In recent years, much of the Earth's land cover has changed rapidly, whether from deforestation or the expansion of urban areas.[47]

    Relationship to other disciplines

    Landscape ecology has been incorporated into a variety of ecological subdisciplines. For example, it is closely linked to land change science, the interdisciplinary of land use and land cover change and their effects on surrounding ecology. Another recent development has been the more explicit consideration of spatial concepts and principles applied to the study of lakes, streams, and wetlands in the field of landscape limnology. Seascape ecology is a marine and coastal application of landscape ecology.[48] In addition, landscape ecology has important links to application-oriented disciplines such as agriculture and forestry. In agriculture, landscape ecology has introduced new options for the management of environmental threats brought about by the intensification of agricultural practices. Agriculture has always been a strong human impact on ecosystems.[18]

    In forestry, from structuring stands for fuelwood and timber to ordering stands across landscapes to enhance aesthetics, consumer needs have affected conservation and use of forested landscapes. Landscape forestry provides methods, concepts, and analytic procedures for landscape forestry.[49] Landscape ecology has been cited as a contributor to the development of fisheries biology as a distinct biological science discipline,[50] and is frequently incorporated in study design for wetland delineation in hydrology.[39] It has helped shape integrated landscape management.[51] Lastly, landscape ecology has been very influential for progressing sustainability science and sustainable development planning. For example, a recent study assessed sustainable urbanization across Europe using evaluation indices, country-landscapes, and landscape ecology tools and methods.[52]

    Landscape ecology has also been combined with population genetics to form the field of landscape genetics, which addresses how landscape features influence the population structure and gene flow of plant and animal populations across space and time[53] and on how the quality of intervening landscape, known as "matrix," influences spatial variation.[54] After the term was coined in 2003, the field of landscape genetics had expanded to over 655 studies by 2010,[55] and continues to grow today. As genetic data has become more readily accessible, it is increasingly being used by ecologists to answer novel evolutionary and ecological questions,[56] many with regard to how landscapes effect evolutionary processes, especially in human-modified landscapes, which are experiencing biodiversity loss.[57]


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    Contributors and Attributions   

    Modified by Andy Wilson (Gettysburg College) and Kyle Whittinghill (University of Vermont) from the following sources:

    21.3: Applications of Landscape Ecology is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.