Ecology Landscape Dynamics
Almo Farina
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0182


A landscape may be considered a geographical and/or an ecological space in which organisms live, and it may be heterogeneous in terms of resource availability. Landscape can be utilized as a powerful model to investigate dynamics of landforms, organisms, and human activities (i.e., land uses). “Landscape dynamics” refers to every change that occurs in the physical, biological, and cognitive assets of a landscape. Landscape dynamics are driven by external perturbations, such as eruptions, earthquakes, erosion, extreme climate events, fires, and human intrusion—and by internal perturbations, such as physical flows of matter and energy, succession, population fluctuations, and community turnover. Landscape dynamics involve properties of the landscape, such as stability, persistence, resistance, resilience, and recovery, that operate along a broad range of temporal and spatial scales, such as shifting mosaic steady-state, and equilibrium spatial properties. Landscape dynamics are very important for land management and conservation. Considering the complexity of the processes that occur in the landscape and the different scales at which individuals, populations, and communities respond to environmental constraints, the investigation of landscape dynamics must be conducted with robust conceptualization and accurate modeling (see Modeling Landscape Dynamics). In particular, landscape dynamics can be investigated at discontinuities or ecotones (see Landscape Dynamics and Climate Change and Landscape Dynamics and Urban/Rural Edges), or by assessing the level of connectivity (see Corridor Dynamics). Rural landscape is a better candidate for investigating the dynamics of the land mosaic, while undisturbed systems like tropical or boreal forests require a gradient analysis (see Land Use Changes and Land Abandonment). New relevant scenarios to investigate and interpret landscape dynamics are offered by natural and anthropogenic sounds, as proxies of several ecological functions (Ecoacoustic Dynamics).

General Overviews

Landscape dynamics are the major focus in landscape studies where spatial processes affect ecological processes (Forman and Godron 1981). At the end of the 1980s, after the publication of the seminal book Landscape Ecology (Naveh and Lieberman 1984) and the founding of the journal Landscape Ecology by Frank Golley, the interests of many ecologists and architects converged into the new field of landscape ecology. To understand and interpret the complex physical, biological, and cognitive phenomena of landscapes, it was necessary to operate conceptually and practically within a broad range of spatial and temporal scales (Farina 2006, Farina 2010). Neutral models opened the way to spatial dynamics simulations, especially in forested areas (Gardner and Urban 2007). Several concepts used in ecosystems and population ecology, such as hierarchy theory (Allen and Starr 1982; O’Neill, et al. 1992), the source-sink model (Pulliam 1988), and metapopulation dynamics (Hanski 1999), combined with spatial scaling of patterns and processes (Wiens 1989) were adapted to the new field of landscape ecology. Spatial processes rapidly became a new field of research. In particular, land use changes became one of the most popular themes. Many concepts utilized by ecosystem ecology have been reused with a landscape perspective, but many others, like dynamics at ecotones and the role of corridors, pertain directly to the landscape approach. The human dimension of the landscape and its interaction with economics and social development has become a dominant theme. Fragmentation and human disturbance often act upon the same area and allow us to investigate natural processes like succession and man-made modification of natural assets. Hierarchy (vertical and horizontal) is a central concept to interpret landscape dynamics. Hierarchical conceptualization helps to better understand processes visible at a certain scale that are in contemporary relation or influenced by elements observed at other scales. The river system is an example of a hierarchical system, where the main basin is composed of a hierarchy of sub-basins where different ecological processes contribute to the overall complexity and dynamics (Thomaz, et al. 2016).

  • Allen, T. F. H., and T. B. Starr. 1982. Hierarchy: Perspectives for ecological complexity. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    Environmental complexity is the result of a hierarchy of patterns and related processes that operate at different interacting scales.

  • Farina, A. 2006. Principles and methods in landscape ecology. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

    Landscapes are described as hierarchical systems, with different patterns and processes emerging at each level.

  • Farina, A. 2010. Ecology, cognition and landscape. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.

    Landscape concepts are reviewed according to ecological, biosemiotic, and cognitive theory.

  • Forman, R. T., and M. Godron. 1981. Patches and structural components for a landscape ecology. BioScience 31.10: 733–740.

    DOI: 10.2307/1308780

    A landscape is an ensemble of patches of different origin and dynamics where size, shape, and spatial configuration have fundamental roles, made more complex by ecotones and human settlements.

  • Gardner, R. H., and D. L. Urban. 2007. Neutral models for testing landscape hypotheses. Landscape Ecology 22.1: 15–29.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10980-006-9011-4

    Neutral models, spatially explicit, have been used to test landscape dynamics.

  • Hanski, I. 1999. Metapopulation ecology. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Metapopulation models and theories are presented and accompanied by empirical studies.

  • Naveh, Z., and A. S. Lieberman. 1984. Landscape ecology: Theory and application. New York: Springer-Verlag.

    A seminal textbook on the fundamentals of landscape ecology, interpreted in a holistic way.

  • O’Neill, R. V., R. H. Gardner, and M. G. Turner. 1992. A hierarchical neutral model for landscape analysis. Landscape Ecology 7:55–61.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF02573957

    Random maps assure useful neutral models for landscape problems. Organisms supported by a suitable habitat at local scale could impede movements at higher scale. A multiscale approach is recommended to evaluate the persistence and stability of ecological problems.

  • Pulliam, H. R. 1988. Sources, sinks, and population regulation. American Naturalist 132.5: 652–661.

    DOI: 10.1086/284880

    A fundamental model for interpreting the heterogeneous distribution of resources across a landscape, and the consequences for population dynamics (emigration, extinction).

  • Thomaz, A. T., M. R. Christie, and L. L. Knowles. 2016. The architecture of river networks can drive the evolutionary dynamics of aquatic populations. Evolution 70:731–739.

    DOI: 10.1111/evo.12883

    Physical landscapes have a great influence on genetic variation within and between populations. Using a spatially explicit agent-based modeling (ABM) approach, the authors investigated the effects of dendritic river shapes on local population structure. Genetic diversity increased twenty-fold, and the genetic differentiation between local populations, seven-fold.

  • Wiens, J. 1989. Spatial scaling in ecology. Functional Ecology 3:385–397.

    DOI: 10.2307/2389612

    The importance of scale in landscape is discussed in terms of organism distribution.

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