, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 333-343

Responses of mammals to habitat edges: an overview

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Abstract

Life generates discontinuites (boundaries) in the distribution of matter and energy. One class of these constitutes the edges between habitat-types; these are fundamental structures in landscape functioning, and hence are of central importance in conservation biology. The symposium on which this series of papers is based focused on the responses of mammals to habitat edges. A diversity of views are represented, and a variety of edge related behaviors illustrated. A survey of general ecology texts dating back to 1933 demonstrates a decline of interest in ecotones and edge effects extending into the 1980's but showing a resurgence of interest in the 1990's. Habitat edges are defined operationally with respect to particular focal species leading to a number of important corollary features. The variety of phenomena subsumed under ‘edge effects’ is emphasized, and an initial attempt at classification is proposed based primarily on the presence or absence of emergent properties in edge response behaviors (matrix vs. ecotonal effects). This scheme provides for clear null hypotheses needed to distinguish the two types, enlightens mechanistic explanations of edge effects, and encourages predictions about the results of untested management schemes or other novel situations. The use and design of landscape corridors are tied to edge related behaviors. A functional and general definition of corridors is urged, so that their effectiveness can be judged with respect to specified attributes rather than to a general collection of things that might be termed corridors. Linear habitat patches are specifically excluded from the definition. Studies on small mammals have contributed to our understanding of the potential role of corridors in metapopulation dynamics. Fine versus coarse grained perceptions of environment by different species will generate ecotonal edge effects such as spillover predation. In general, the effects on landscape processes of various species operating on different spatial scales seems a fruitful direction for future research.