Landscape Ecology

, Volume 27, Issue 9, pp 1249–1261 | Cite as

Are landscape ecologists addressing uncertainty in their remote sensing data?

  • Alex M. LechnerEmail author
  • William T. Langford
  • Sarah A. Bekessy
  • Simon D. Jones
Research Article


In this quantitative review, we investigate the degree to which landscape ecology studies that use spatial data address spatial uncertainty when conducting analyses. We identify three broad categories of spatial uncertainty that are important in determining the characterisation of landscape pattern and affect the outcome of analysis in landscape ecology: (i) classification scheme uncertainty, (ii) spatial scale and (iii) classification error. The second category, spatial scale, was further subdivided into five scale dependent factors (i) pixel size, (ii) minimum mappable unit, (iii) smoothing, (iv) thematic resolution and (v) extent. We reviewed all articles published in the journal Landscape ecology in 2007 and recorded how spatial data was used and whether spatial uncertainty was addressed or reported in ecological analyses. This review found that spatial uncertainty was rarely addressed and/or reported. Only 23 % of articles addressed one or more scale dependent factors and 47 % reported one or more as issues. Most articles used the default pixel size of the sensor, and only a single study of the 59 investigated the effect of classification accuracy on ecological analyses. We demonstrate that spatial uncertainty is not being addressed as standard practice in analyses in landscape ecology, and then describe methods to test for spatial uncertainty and potential solutions that can be developed in the future.


Scale Spatial uncertainty Classification error Landscape pattern Remote sensing GIS Land-cover mapping 



This work was supported by the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) discovery grant DP0450889, the ARC linkage grant LP0882780 and the Australian Commonwealth Environment Research Fund Landscape Logic research hub. Thanks to Patrick Audet and Phillippa Bricher for feedback on the paper. A special thanks to the editor Sarah Gergel and the anonymous reviewers for detailed and constructive feedback on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alex M. Lechner
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • William T. Langford
    • 2
  • Sarah A. Bekessy
    • 3
  • Simon D. Jones
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation, Sustainable Minerals InstituteUniversity of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  2. 2.School of Mathematical and Geospatial SciencesRMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  3. 3.School of Global Studies, Social Science & PlanningRMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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