, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 67-86

The land unit — A fundamental concept in landscape ecology, and its applications

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Abstract

The land unit, as an expression of landscape as a system, is a fundamental concept in landscape ecology. It is an ecologically homogeneous tract of land at the scale at issue. It provides a basis for studying topologic as well as chorologic landscape ecology relationships. A land unit survey aims at mapping such land units. This is done by simultaneously using characteristics of the most obvious (mappable) land attributes: land-form, soil and vegetation (including human alteration of these three). The land unit is the basis of the map legend but may be expressed via these three land attributes. The more dynamic land attributes, such as certain animal populations and water fluxes, are less suitable as diagnostic criteria, but often link units by characteristic information/energy fluxes.

The land unit survey is related to a further development of the widely accepted physiographic soil survey see Edelman (1950). Important aspects include: by means of a systems approach, the various land data can be integrated more appropriately; geomorphology, vegetation and soil science support each other during all stages (photo-interpretation, field survey, data processing, final classification); the time and costs are considerably less compared with the execution of separate surveys; the result is directly suitable as a basis for land evaluation; the results can be expressed in separate soil, vegetation, land use and landform maps, or even single value maps.

A land unit survey is therefore: a method for efficient survey of land attributes, such as soils, vegetation, landform, expressed in either separate or combined maps; a means of stimulating integration among separate land attribute sciences; an efficient basis for land evaluation. For multidisciplinary projects with applied ecologic aims (e.g., land management), it is therefore the most appropriate survey approach.

Within the land unit approach there is considerable freedom in the way in which the various land attribute data are ‘integrated’. It is essential, however, that: during the photo-interpretation stage, the contributions of the various specialists are brought together to prepare a preliminary (land unit) photo-interpretation map; the fieldwork data are collected at exactly the same sample point, preferably by a team of specialists in which soil, vegetation and geomorphology are represented; the final map is prepared in close cooperation of all contributing disciplines, based on photo-interpretation and field data; the final map approach may vary from one fully-integrated land unit map to various monothematic maps.