Appreciating ecological complexity: Habitat contours as a conceptual landscape model

Joern Fischer, David B. Lindenmayer, Ioan Fazey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Citations (SciVal)


Organisms respond to their surroundings at multiple spatial scales, and different organisms respond differently to the same environment. Existing landscape models, such as the 'fragmentation model' (or patch-matrix-corridor model) and the 'variegation model,' can be limited in their ability to explain complex patterns for different species and across multiple scales. An alternative approach is to conceptualize landscapes as overlaid species-specific habitat contour maps. Key characteristics of this approach are that different species may respond differently to the same environmental conditions and at different spatial scales. Although similar approaches are being used in ecological modeling, there is much room for habitat contours as a useful conceptual tool. By providing an alternative view of landscapes, a contour model may stimulate more field investigations stratified on the basis of ecological variables other than human-defined patches and patch boundaries. A conceptual model of habitat contours may also help to communicate ecological complexity to land managers. Finally, by incorporating additional ecological complexity, a conceptual model based on habitat contours may help to bridge the perceived gap between pattern and process in landscape ecology. Habitat contours do not preclude the use of existing landscape models and should be seen as a complementary approach most suited to heterogeneous human-modified landscapes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1245-1253
Number of pages9
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 01 Oct 2004


  • conceptual models
  • fragmentation
  • habitat contours
  • habitat suitability maps
  • landscape models
  • patch-matrix-corridor model
  • variegation


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