Landscape scale

Land management plans often focus on a delineated area, such as a single property or group of landholdings. This may not tell the whole story, though, especially when considering the movement of animals or plants throughout a community.

Another way of evaluating natural resource systems is to look at the landscape level. The term “landscape ecology” was first used by the German ecologist/geographer Carl Troll in 1939. Troll argued that one needs to look at how spatial reference affects the abundance of an organism at the landscape level.

This type of analysis looks at ecological principles, geographical modeling, and the influence of human populations along with other criteria. Landscape level ecology was debated for a number of years before it became a discrete science in the 1980s. The development of remote sensing, especially the advancement of Geographical Information Systems (GIS), aided in the development of this science.

In landscape ecology, managers look at the composition, structure, and function of a landscape and how it changes over time. Quite often, data modeling is utilized to predict these changes. Landscape ecology analyzes how local habitats connect and how these habitats are impacted by temporary disturbances and how they change due to permanent fragmentation.

An example of landscape ecology might be a study of brook trout populations in Blue Mountain Run. The purpose of this study would be to evaluate the abundance of brook trout in the stream to find determine where they can be found there as well as areas they are absent; to determine if the populations can intermingle or if they are separated by some sort of barrier; to identify impediments to the sustainability of the population; and to determine if the population is ultimately sustainable or not.

Since Blue Mountain Run may be miles long and traverse many different land holdings, the study must take place at the landscape level. In this example, the managers may conclude that it would be feasible to reestablish brook trout throughout the stream by a combination of planting trees along the corridor to cool water temperatures, eradicate the more aggressive brown trout from the stream, remove impediments in the stream, and install a wide culvert so that brook trout populations have enhanced movement throughout the stream corridor, facilitating intermingling of separate populations.

Landscape level plans are quite common for wildlife species such as the cerulean warbler, golden winged warbler, woodcock, and ruffed grouse. Landscape level ecology also has forestry applications, such as evaluating land composition in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, identifying forest cover types, locating large blocks of forest, and determining tree canopy coverage in urban areas. Analyzing data at the landscape level also has many applications in managing fishes, streams, and large bodies of water.

Nature Note for 7/17/2016

Article by Mike Kay