Addressing the problem of scale that emerges with habitat fragmentation

Publications Type: 
Journal Article
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Fletcher, Robert J.; Betts, Matthew G.; Damschen, Ellen I.; Hefley, Trevor J., Hightower, Jessica; Smith, Thomas A. H.; Fortin, Marie-Josée; Haddad, Nick M. 2023. Addressing the problem of scale that emerges with habitat fragmentation. Global Ecology and Biogeography. 00: 1-14. doi:


Fragmentation and scale Although habitat loss has well-known impacts on biodiversity, the effects of habitat fragmentation remain intensely debated. It is often argued that the effects of habitat fragmentation, or the breaking apart of habitat for a given habitat amount, can be understood only at the scale of entire landscapes composed of multiple habitat patches. Yet, fragmentation also impacts the size, isolation and habitat edge for individual patches within landscapes. Addressing the problem of scale on fragmentation effects is crucial for resolving how fragmentation impacts biodiversity. Scaling framework We build upon scaling concepts in ecology to describe a framework that emphasizes three ?dimensions? of scale in habitat fragmentation research: the scales of phenomena (or mechanisms), sampling and analysis. Using this framework, we identify ongoing challenges and provide guidance for advancing the science of fragmentation. Implications We show that patch- and landscape-scale patterns arising from habitat fragmentation for a given amount of habitat are fundamentally related, leading to interdependencies among expected patterns arising from different scales of phenomena. Aggregation of information when increasing the grain of sampling (e.g., from patch to landscape) creates challenges owing to biases created from the modifiable areal unit problem. Consequently, we recommend that sampling strategies use the finest grain that captures potential underlying mechanisms (e.g., plot or patch). Study designs that can capture phenomena operating at multiple spatial extents offer the most promise for understanding the effects of fragmentation and its underlying mechanisms. By embracing the interrelationships among scales, we expect more rapid advances in our understanding of habitat fragmentation.
Keywords: connectivity, edge, fragmented landscape, habitat loss, MAUP, patch size