Landscape ecology

Landscapes are characterized by a mosaic of landscape features such as forests, agricultural land or settlements. These features and their spatial arrangement are driven by climate, topography or presence of plant and animal species, but also by current and past human activities. The landscape pattern influences ecological processes and services, including provisioning food or water and climate regulation.

Landscape-ecological research uses a vast variety of quantitative methods and models to analyze past, present and future landscape patterns. Of particular interest is the impact of patterns on ecosystem processes, biodiversity or ecosystem services. Because the relative effect of processes may depend on scale, we study ecological interactions among landscape elements from local to global. By combining advanced methods, we can also investigate processes which take place out of view.

Landscape genetics, for example, combines landscape ecology, population genetics and spatial statistics. This enables us, for example, to study the distribution of plants and animals and determine which landscape elements hinder or facilitate their migration. This can be used to investigate the cross-linking of populations at a regional level. The concepts of landscape ecology are equally valid for the marine realm and we can compare the similarities in the processes shaping landscapes and seascapes.

Landscape ecology has a special focus on the spatial patterns on living creatures and how species assemblages are associated to ecosystem processes. By applying data on the occurrence of species collected in the field in statistical models, we can indicate where biodiversity is particularly rich and which land use and environmental conditions are responsible for this. Models also enable the assessment of future landscape developments and how biodiversity is expected to be impacted. For instance, changing boundary conditions can be included in the models to assess how species may shift in response to climate and land use change.

In turn, our research can also support various practitioners in their decisions. Forest owners can be supported in planning the forest of the future, and planners and politicians can be encouraged to manage landscape in a way that secures the provision of services for future generations.

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