Quantifying Landscape Spatial Pattern: What Is the State of the Art?
Landscape ecology is based on the premise that there are strong links between ecological pattern and ecological function and process. Ecological systems are spatially heterogeneous, exhibiting considerable complexity and variability in time and space. This variability is typically represented by categorical maps or by a collection of samples taken at specific spatial locations (point data). Categorical maps quantize variability by identifying patches that are relatively homogeneous and that exhibit a relatively abrupt transition to adjacent areas. Alternatively, point-data analysis (geostatistics) assumes that the system property is spatially continuous, making fewer assumptions about the nature of spatial structure. Each data model provides capabilities that the other does not, and they should be considered complementary. Although the concept of patches is intuitive and consistent with much of ecological theory, point-data analysis can answer two of the most critical questions in spatial pattern analysis: what is the appropriate scale to conduct the analysis, and what is the nature of the spatial structure? I review the techniques to evaluate categorical maps and spatial point data, and make observations about the interpretation of spatial pattern indices and the appropriate application of the techniques. Pattern analysis techniques are most useful when applied and interpreted in the context of the organism(s) and ecological processes of interest, and at appropriate scales, although some may be useful as coarse-filter indicators of ecosystem function. I suggest several important needs for future research, including continued investigation of scaling issues, development of indices that measure specific components of spatial pattern, and efforts to make point-data analysis more compatible with ecological theory.
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