Tools and methods in landscape ecology

Landscape ecology tools used at Forest Research

Our GIS tools are being developed within a project called BEETLE (Biological and Environmental Evaluation Tools for Landscape Ecology). We are developing tools for manipulating land cover data, tools for measuring landscape structure, and tools for assessing landscape function and connectivity.

Structural tools use land cover data to produce metrics or indicators based on the habitat requirements of focal species.

Functional tools use habitat information from the structural tools to model species movement within the connectivity element to produce habitat networks. There is also scope for analysing pattern metrics or spatially explicit population modelling; these are a developing component of our work.

The flow of data, inputs and processes in our landscape ecology tools.

Landscape structure

Priorities for landscape planners can often be met by measuring changes in the physical attributes of a landscape (the landscape metrics). Previous work in the Landscape Ecology programme identified important differences between different types of wooded landscape in the UK, primarily differences in the grain, which is the spatial scale of variation in vegetation structure.

It is often more helpful to analyse landscape structure in terms of the habitat of a particular species, for example:

  • Total area of habitat
  • Mean size of habitat patches
  • Mean inter-patch distance
  • Variation in patch sizes
  • The number of patches linked by a particular piece of new planting.

These species based metrics can be used as indicators of landscape quality and change. An example of this approach has been used in the Isle of Wight JIGSAW planting analysis.

Functional connectivity

Our Habitat Network tool models the ecological function of a landscape through the connectivity of habitats, which consists of the arrangement of patches and the ease of movement between them. The ecological information needed for analysing connectivity and fragmentation in a landscape are quite complex, especially the variation in the resistance, or permeability, of different landuses between patches of habitat (the matrix).

Using Individual Focal Species

Sometimes the parameters set for the different aspects of connectivity are based upon the opinion of experts in a particular species. In addition, research within Forest Research and with collaborative partners will improve the data available, e.g. for bats and butterflies.

As part of the Species Action Plan research, a database of data on woodland species’ interactions with landscape features is being compiled. We will then find out where such species sit within our generic species profiles.

Using Generic Focal Species

The science behind the use of Generic Focal Species is summarised in the scientific principles page.  We use Generic Focal Species in order to analyse the functional connectivity of landscapes for particular groups of species, currently those with moderately high habitat area requirements and moderately low dispersal ability (the grey circle in the figure below).

A table showing how species of conservation concern are those with high area requirements and low dispersal distances. We plan to fit real species into this table