Landscape Ecology in Review

Landscape Ecology

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 7-18

First online:

The influence of landscape, patch, and within-patch factors on species presence and abundance: a review of focal patch studies

  • Daniel H. ThorntonAffiliated withDepartment of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida Email author 
  • , Lyn C. BranchAffiliated withDepartment of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida
  • , Melvin E. SunquistAffiliated withDepartment of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida

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Understanding the influence of large and small-scale heterogeneity on species distribution and abundance is one of the major foci of landscape ecology research in fragmented environments. Although a large number of studies have addressed this issue individually, little effort has been made to synthesize the vast amount of literature published in the last decade. We reviewed 122 focal patch studies on 954 species published between 1998 and 2009 to determine the probability of species responding significantly to landscape, patch, and within-patch variables. We assessed the influence of taxonomic, life history, and methodological variables on probability of response to these 3 levels. Species in diverse taxa responded at high rates to factors at all three levels, suggesting that a multi-level approach is often necessary for understanding species response in patchy systems. Mammals responded at particularly high rates to landscape variables and therefore may benefit more than other taxa from landscape-level conservation efforts in fragmented environments. The probability of detecting a species response to landscape context, patch, and within-patch factors was influenced by a variety of methodological aspects of the studies such as type of landscape metric used, type of response variable, and sample size. Study design issues rarely are discussed by authors as reasons why a particular study did not find an effect of a variable, but should be given more consideration in future studies.


Focal patch study Isolation Landscape Patch quality Presence–absence vs. abundance Review Multi-level Sample size Study design and methodology