, Volume 96, Issue 1, pp 114-121

The spatial structure of the physical environment

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There is substantial environmental variance at small spatial scales (1 m or less) in both natural and disturbed environments. We have investigated the spatial structure of physical variables at larger scales (up to 106 m). We analysed surveys of edaphic properties of Wisconsin forest soils, of the water chemistry of lakes in Ontario and Labrador, and of temperature and precipitation in northeastern North America. We found no clear indication that the variance among sites approaches some maximal value as the distance between them increases. We suggest instead that the variance of the physical environment tends to increase continually with distance. The slope of the log-log regression of variance on distance provides a means of comparing the heterogeneity of different environments with respect to a given factor, or of comparing different factors within a given environment. This slope provides a useful measure of environmental structure that can be related to the biodiversity or plasticity of native organisms.