Publisher: Cambridge University Press Date of Publication: 2005
Price: ISBN: 0 521 53754 1
Pages: xvi + 465 Format: Paperback

Overall Score:

Target Readership Educator For help with criteria, click here


Return to main review page



1 - Introductory perspectives; 2 - Theory, experiments and the models in landscape ecology; 3 - Landscape patterns; 4 - Landscape dynamics on multiple scales; 5 - Applications of landscape ecology; 6 - Cultural perspectives and landscape planning; 7 - Retrospect and prospect.



The idea of landscape ecology as a specialist sub-discipline is relatively recent. This book, the result of the 5th international conference of the International Association of Landscape Ecology held in 1999, tries to answer this question. It's clear that there is no one specific definition but most would seem to agree that it is the study of factors influencing landscapes at a variety of scales. In some way this is reminiscent of the old idea of 'watershed' systems which were used as one of the earlier integrative ideas in ecology.

To shed light on this, 41 landscape ecologists contributed to the seven sections of this volume. The first section seeks to define the subject in terms of history, areas of study and some of the basic concepts. It is clear that we are dealing with a broad, integrative subject which seeks to draw together a variety of disciplines to make an integrated whole. This brief introduction is followed by a more specific look at landscape theory. Several important elements are discussed. For example, scale (a problem is all areas of ecology!) becomes a central topic because landscapes arise at a range of scales. This then brings into operation the need to include/exclude features and detail as the scale changes. It also requires that we consider the stability of the system - is it in equilibrium or not. If we are to make progress then we need to carry out both experiments and modelling but, as we see here, both have their limitations. Part three moves on to one of the key areas - analysis of landscape pattern. A pattern may seem like a simple matter to resolve but, as the contributions demonstrate, there are several factors which need to be taken into account. Patterns are dynamic - which one is used for, say, policy-making? Landscapes are not sharply defined areas but composed of gradients - where to draw the line is important and, like other aspects, scale-dependant. Part four deals with the dynamics of landscapes. This had been mentioned, briefly, in part one but here the matter is dealt with in more detail. One aspect less often dealt with is that landscapes are geomorphological entities and that they change with time scales that differ to that of ecosystems. Soil and soil development are also key factors, altering the nutrient supply of the ecosystem. This means that landscapes are highly variable and the changes wrought upon then can be complex. It follows that trying to analyse (or even predict) what is or might be is going to be a challenging topic. Part five turns to the practical use of landscape ecology. Here we see examples of where the subject can be valued. Water and river management, agriculture, ecology, forestry, conservation, restoration of degraded landscapes are the examples discussed but it is just as obvious that an other set could be substituted with equal ease. Here lies both the advantage and disadvantage of landscape ecology: broad but with problems of limitations. Part six turns to an area not often covered - that of the cultural landscape. Whilst it is obvious that so much of our surroundings have been altered by human action it is less obvious how one deals with it. Here we see work which seeks to place landscape ecology in such a way that it helps to define the cultural elements and allow planning to take place. Landscape ecology has policy and political dimensions in this area. We use it to define and restore river areas; we use it in the work of impact assessment and, since landscapes are easily perceived, we use it to interpret and parameterise change. Part seven seeks to draw together the strands in the preceding work and show how the subject might develop.

This is a very interesting text. The sheer weight of numbers means that each contributor has little time to gather their arguments. This means that the text is tightly argued with a wealth of detail. Although this is meant to be a key defining volume the impression for the 'outsider' is one of dynamic questioning and the sheer practical use of the subject. The detail of the text means that it would be best suited to undergraduate classes but the information and ideas it contains would make it ideal for the educator seeking to put a broad perspective into ecological or environmental work and should be a key component in field work where its approach has much to recommend it.


Return to main review page