TigerTurf Articles >> A Landscape Ecology Introduction

Landscape ecology falls under the broader heading of ecology, focusing on the correlations between spatial patterns and landscape characteristics. Landscape ecology also considers the effects of land use on natural resources such as forests, wetlands, grasslands, lakes, rivers, streams, and other natural settings. These ecological considerations make it possible to manage landscape use to minimize negative effects on the environment.

What is Landscape Ecology?

A landscape is an area of land of any size that contains a specific pattern that impacts and is impacted by various ecological processes. Landscape ecology studies these specific patterns and how various elements within the landscape interact to cause change. Landscape ecology seeks to use the theories from these observations to solve environmental challenges. Landscape ecology involves three standard characteristics: landscape structure, landscape function, and landscape change. The structure of a landscape involves the spatial arrangement of various elements present in the landscape. The function of a landscape involves movement, both of animals living in the landscape and of landscape elements and ecosystems in an area, such as water, plants, wind, and materials. The change of a landscape involves observation of how spatial arrangement or the function of a landscape changes over time.

Landscape ecology involves the study of patterns in landscape structures. Patches are habitat areas that vary in size, shape, number, and location. Patches can cluster in an area with a number of them coexisting in small proximity, or they may occur in more isolated fashion. Corridors separate patches, serving as boundaries. Corridors can have a variety of characteristics, such as straight or curvy perimeters or a narrow or wide width. Corridors may also be continuous or disconnected. The matrix is the landscape that surrounds patches and corridors. Matrix areas could be farmland, for example.

The History of Landscape Ecology

Although landscape ecology and this specific study of the ecology is relatively new, it has roots that date back to Europe during the post-World War II era. In researching the history of landscape ecology, evidence shows air photo research during this period that led a German biogeographer to use the term "landscape ecology" as he looked at the importance of spatial arrangements when managing the ecological environment.

In the 1980s, technology progressed to a point where scientists were able to observe, record, and analyze spatial arrangements locally and over vast areas of land. Scientists used satellite and aerial imagery for these observations. Current technology with computers and computer models provides scientists with the ability to glimpse into the future of the environment, enabling them to make more sustainable choices.

Landscape Ecology Principles

The science of landscape ecology actually includes numerous sciences under the broad umbrella of landscape ecology. These sciences include antropology, geobotany, geomorphology, soil science, and zoology. In combining these areas of science to make up landscape ecology, it is possible to observe how interactions between these separate areas affect various ecological processes.

One of the main principles of landscape ecology notes the change that occurs in spatial arrangements, either as a result of human actions or from natural processes. Scientists study the relationship between human activity and landscape pattern, noting the process by which change occurs.

Human activity and flawed landscape designs have led to a variety of environmental issues that threaten the earth, including air and water pollution, the spread of invasive species, loss of biodiversity, and significant climate changes. Urban development, industrialization, and disappearing ecoscapes are principle threats to the natural environment. Natural ecosystems such as tropical rainforests, deciduous forests, grasslands, and wetlands have been disrupted, with alarming results. Animal and insect species have declined, native plants are disappearing, and greenhouse gas emissions have caused climatic changes. Applying the principles of landscape ecology enables management of land use, animal and plant populations, and natural disturbances.

Landscape design should harmoniously connect human innovation with the nature that surrounds it. Design that considers responsible use of natural resources, environmental sustainability, and minimal stress to natural ecosystems will benefit everyone. Not only can human economy flourish, but the environment's natural ecosystems can be maintained and even enhanced.