Ecologists study relationships between living things and their environment. As a discipline, ecology was a reaction to the concentration of biologists and botanists on individual species, just as gestalt psychology was a reaction to the focus on individual perceptual elements. Both disciplines emerged in late-nineteenth century Germany. Landscape ecology is a further development of ecology. Instead of examining individual habitats, the discipline looks at landscape structures and patterns (Figure 12). Forman and Godron introduce the concept by comparing the patterns of an agricultural landscape in Winsconsin, a coniferous forest in Canada, a tropical rainforest in Colombia and a Mediterranean landscape in southern France. Despite their differences, each is found to share a fundamental structure composed of patches, corridors and a background matrix:
The agricultural and coniferous landscapes had small distinct patches, the rain forest landscape indistinct patches, and the Mediterranean landscape contained a mixture of large, small, distinct, and indistinct patches. Geomorphic controls predominate in the rain forest, natural disturbances and geomorphology in the coniferous forest, human influence in the agricultural landscape, and all three in the Mediterranean case. Corridors and linearity are most pronounced in the agricultural landscape and least evident in the rain forest and the coniferous forest. The background matrix is field in the agricultural landscape, forest in the next two, and hard to determine in the Mediterranean case. (Forman and Godron, 1986)
Landscape structures can be used to inform landscape planning and management decisions. If, for example, an ecological corridor is to contain a housing area, it is necessary to assess the interactions between the proposed new patch and its surroundings. Is the corridor a route for wildlife movement? Does it detain flood water and protect downstream areas? Will the new patch cause a discharge of pollutants into adjoining patches? Landscape ecological patterns help in answering these questions.
3.12 Landscape ecology
Fig 3.12 Botany is concerned with individual species, ecology with relationships between species, landscape ecology with relationships between habitats (often studied as patches and corridors, as in this prarie landscape).