, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 25-36

Using fractal analysis to assess how species perceive landscape structure

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To develop a species-centered definition of ‘landscapes,’ I suggest using a fractal analysis of movement patterns to identify the scales at which organisms are interacting with the patch structure of the landscape. Significant differences in the fractal dimensions of movement patterns of two species indicate that the species may be interacting with the patch structure at different scales. Fractal analysis therefore permits comparisons of ‘landscape perceptions’ of different species within the same environment.

I tested the utility of this fractal application by analyzing the movement patterns of three species of acridid grasshoppers (Orthoptera) in a grassland mosaic. The largest species moved up to 6 times faster than the two smaller species, and species exhibited different responses to microlandscape structure within 25-m2 plots. Further, the largest species exhibited different responses to microlandscape structure in two pastures subjected to different intensities of cattle grazing. This species thus is able to integrate information on landscape structure at broad spatial scales. Fractal analysis of movement patterns revealed that the two small species had significantly more tortuous patterns than the larger species, which suggests that these species are interacting with patch structure at a finer scale of resolution than the large species. Fractal analysis can be used to identify the perceptive resolution of a species; that is, the spatial grain and extent at which they are able to perceive and respond to heterogeneity. Analysis of movement patterns across a range of spatial scale may reveal shifts in fractal dimension that reflect transitions in how species respond to the patch structure of the landscape at different scales.