Landscape Ecology

, Volume 29, Issue 6, pp 949–961 | Cite as

Living on the edge: quantifying the structure of a fragmented forest landscape in England

  • Terhi RiuttaEmail author
  • Eleanor M. Slade
  • Michael D. Morecroft
  • Daniel P. Bebber
  • Yadvinder Malhi
Research Article


Forest ecosystems have been widely fragmented by human land use, inducing significant microclimatic and biological changes at the forest edge. If we are to rigorously assess the ecological impacts of habitat fragmentation, there is a need to effectively quantify the amount of edge habitat within a landscape, and to allow this to be modelled for individual species and processes. Edge effect may extend only a few metres or as far as several kilometres, depending on the species or process in question. Therefore, rather than attempting to quantify the amount of edge habitat by using a fixed, case-specific distance to distinguish between edge and core, the area of habitat within continuously-varying distances from the forest edge is of greater utility. We quantified the degree of fragmentation of forests in England, where forests cover 10 % of the land area. We calculated the distance from within the forest patches to the nearest edge (forest vs. non-forest) and other landscape indices, such as mean patch size, edge density and distance to the nearest neighbour. Of the total forest area, 37 % was within 30 m and 74 % within 100 m of the nearest edge. This highlights that, in fragmented landscapes, the habitats close to the edge form a considerable proportion of the total habitat area. We then show how these edge estimates can be combined with ecological response functions, to allow us to generate biologically meaningful estimates of the impacts of fragmentation at a landscape scale.


GIS Ancient woodland Landscape metrics Upscaling UK 



The study was funded by the HSBC Climate Partnership Programme through the Earthwatch Institute.

Supplementary material

10980_2014_25_MOESM1_ESM.eps (27 kb)
Figure S1. Density histograms of (a) forest patch size, (b) patch shape index, (c) average distance to the nearest open edge from within the patch, (d) maximum distance to the nearest open edge from within the patch and (e) distance to the nearest patch of the same type. Left column: all forests, right column: ancient woodlands. (EPS 28 kb)
10980_2014_25_MOESM2_ESM.eps (4.1 mb)
Figure S2. Regional (see Fig. 1 for map) cumulative proportion of forest area (patches <2 ha excluded) as a function of the distance to the nearest open edge from within the forest patch. The parameters a and b of the hyperbolic curve (Eq. 1) and the mean forest patch size (mps) are shown in each panel (EPS 4.10 mb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Terhi Riutta
    • 1
    Email author
  • Eleanor M. Slade
    • 2
    • 3
  • Michael D. Morecroft
    • 4
  • Daniel P. Bebber
    • 5
  • Yadvinder Malhi
    • 1
  1. 1.Environmental Change Institute, School of Geography and the EnvironmentUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of ZoologyUniversity of OxfordAbingdonUK
  3. 3.Spatial Foodweb Ecology Group, Department of Applied BiologyUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  4. 4.Natural EnglandWinchesterUK
  5. 5.Department of BiosciencesUniversity of ExeterExeterUK

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