, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 462–476 | Cite as

Toward Conceptual Cohesiveness: a Historical Analysis of the Theory and Utility of Ecological Boundaries and Transition Zones

  • Matthew M. YarrowEmail author
  • Víctor H. Marín


Ecological transition zones are increasingly recognized as systems that play a critical role in controlling or modifying flows of organisms, materials, and energy across landscapes. Many concepts describing transitional areas have been proposed over the years, such as the prevalent and durable ecotone concept. Confusion among ecologists and land managers about transition zone concepts and the isolation of studies that use only one transition concept can hinder unified progress in understanding these key systems. Currently, a movement toward conceptual synthesis under the umbrella concept of ‘ecological boundary’ is underway. Here we examine the history and theoretical baggage of the ecotone, riparian zone, and several other concepts. Subsequently, we present a conceptual cluster analysis, which facilitates a better understanding of the similarities and differences between boundary and transition concepts. We emphasize the hierarchical nature of these concepts: higher-level synthetic concepts can be used in the development of theory, whereas lower-level concepts allow more specificity and the formulation of operational definitions. Finally, we look briefly at the utility and future use of boundary and transition zone concepts.

Key words

ecological boundary transition zone ecotone riparian zone ecological theory conceptual cluster transdisciplinarity. 



This work has been financed by the Sixth Framework Program of the European Union (Contract INCO-CT-2004-003715) through the ECOManage Project. The authors also wish to thank Italo Serey, Erika Rodriguez and two anonymous reviewers for constructive criticisms to earlier versions of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratorio de Modelación Ecológica, Departamento de Ciencias Ecológicas, Facultad de CienciasUniversidad de ChileSantiagoChile

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