January 2000: Policy direction for biodiversity is now represented by the Landscape Unit Planning Guide. This Extension Note should be regarded as technical background only.
Spatial patterns? To get a good idea of what we mean by spatial patterns in forested landscapes, bail out of an airplane at 10 000 m over British Columbia on a clear day. As you drift down, you begin to notice patterns in the landscape, a many-hued mosaic of different patches. Splashes of ice and snow top impossibly sharp mountains, branching rivers deeply dissect plateaus, shimmering leaden sheets reveal valley-bottom lakes. Angling down in altitude, you see more detail in the mosaic, especially the different shapes, colours, and textures of the forested patches. Some patches obviously contain clumps of large old-growth trees, some snake linearly, protecting stream waters from your view. Others are bare or, with their slight tinge of green, hold the promise of regrowth.
All of these patterns are "spatial" in the sense that they occupy three- dimensional space. The study of spatial landscape patterns is one of the central interests of landscape ecologists. Landscape ecology enlarges our understanding of dynamic ecological patterns, the role of disturbances in ecosystems, and the characteristic spatial and temporal scales of ecological events.
The Forest Practices Code acknowledges the importance of landscape ecology concepts by enabling district managers to designate planning areas called landscape units, each with specific landscape unit objectives. The Biodiversity Guidebook (B.C. Ministry of Forests and B.C. Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks 1995), a component of the Code, recommends procedures to maintain biodiversity at both landscape and stand levels. These procedures, which use principles of ecosystem management tempered by social considerations, recognize that an important way to maintain biodiversity at the landscape level is to mimic natural spatial patterns in managed forests.
This extension note is the third in a series designed to raise awareness of landscape ecology concepts and to provide background for the ecologically based forest management approach recommended in the Biodiversity Guidebook. The focus here is on spatial patterns in forested landscapes. We first define basic spatial landscape patterns and describe the "whys and wherefores" of their existence. We then discuss some of the ecological principles underlying spatial pattern development, and review the major spatial processes that can alter landscape patterns and threaten biodiversity. We conclude by examining how these concepts can be applied in landscape-level planning situations.
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Updated April 17, 2007