Understanding Patchiness and Scale


Patchiness and scale refers to the distribution of species in a given environment and the ecological patterns and processes that occur at different spatial and temporal scales.


The three main spatial elements of patchiness (see Figure 1) are the patch (the specific habitat), the matrix (the background, underlying ecosystem) and the corridors (the connectors between different patches and matrices). Patch characteristics include size, shape, perimeter, and degree of isolation with these factors then impacting the temporal and spatial variation of scaling.


It is important to understand patch size and the presence of corridors in regards to wildlife management. For example, the removal of an undesirable species from one ecosystem may have unforeseen consequences on species thought to belong to a different ecosystem. For example, rabbits that introduced to Australia and New Zealand during the 19th century became a pest problem and consequently, the Australian government used the Myxoma virus to control the size of the population. However certain predators such as cats and stoats had become dependent on rabbits as a food source and consequently shifted predation to more endangered species such as the giant skink. Consequently, it is of great importance in ecological management to understand the boundaries of patches.


Figure 1 – Patches and how they are connected by corridors, over the matrix

“A conceptual model of a corridor system in an agricultural matrix mix”, 2001, Graphic, Thomas Barnes, Landscape Ecology and Ecosystem Management. Source: http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs/for/for76/for76.pdf


Key Terms:

Corridors – Strips of ecologically similar habitats that connect patches.

Ecosystem – A community of interdependent organisms and the physical/chemical environment in which they inhabit.

Invasive Species – A non-native species that has been introduced to an ecosystem, often with negative ecological consequences.

Matrix – The background ecosystem of a landscape.

Patch – A relatively homogenous habitat that differs to the surrounding habitats.

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