Environmental Management

, Volume 17, Issue 6, pp 829–835

Sociological edge effects: Spatial distribution of human impact in suburban forest fragments

  • Glenn R. Matlack
Environmental Auditing


Suburban forest fragments often experience heavy recreational and waste disposal use, with considerable damage to the vegetation. To suggest strategies for conservation of the forest flora, spatial distributions of human impact were described in 40 fragmentary stands in northern New Castle County, Delaware. The distribution of human impact showed a significant bias to the forest edge, with 95% of localized damage occurring in the first 82 m. Forms of impact related to lawn maintenance fell significantly closer to the edge than impacts related to recreation and showed the strongest edge orientation. Edge distances of campsites, vandalized trees, and firewood gathering were negatively correlated with distance to the nearest graded road, indicating the importance of road access. Several forms of impact were also clustered near footpaths, although distance to paths was independent of edge distance in all cases. In terms of penetration of the forest and severity of damage, human impact greatly exceeds natural edge effects reported for this community. These findings suggest that damage may be minimized by limiting road access and avoiding the creation of small forest fragments.

Key words

Conservation Forest fragmentation Recreation damage Pedestrian traffic Trash dumping Edge effects Footpaths 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Glenn R. Matlack
    • 1
  1. 1.Harvard University, Harvard ForestPetershamUSA

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