How to define a patch: a spatial model for hierarchically delineating organism-specific habitat patches

TitleHow to define a patch: a spatial model for hierarchically delineating organism-specific habitat patches
Publication TypeJournal Article
Girvetz EH, Greco SE
Year of Publication2007

Landscape analysis and delineation of habitat patches should take into account organism-specific behavioral and perceptual responses to landscape structure because different organisms perceive and respond to landscape features over different ranges of spatial scales. The commonly used methods for delineating habitat based on rules of contiguity do not account for organism-specific responses to landscape patch structure and have undesirable properties, such as being dependent on the scale of base map used for analysis. This paper presents an improved patch delineation algorithm, "PatchMorph," which can delineate patches across a range of spatial scales based on three organism-specific thresholds: (1) land cover density threshold, (2) habitat gap maximum thickness (gap threshold), and (3) habitat patch minimum thickness (spur threshold). This algorithm was tested on an "idealized" landscape with landscape gaps and spurs of known size, and delineated patches as expected. It was then applied to delineate patches from a neutral random fractal landscape, which showed that as the input gap and spur thickness thresholds were increased, the number of patches decreased from 59 (low thresholds) patches to 1 (high thresholds). The algorithm was then applied to model western yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus occidentalis) nesting habitat patches based on spur and gap thresholds specific to this organism. Both these analyses showed that fewer patches were delineated by PatchMorph than by rules of contiguity, and those patches were larger, had smoother edges, and had fewer gaps within the patches. This algorithm has many applications beyond those presented in this paper, including habitat suitability analysis, spatially explicit population modeling, and habitat connectivity analysis.

JournalLandscape Ecology
KeywordsCalifornia, ecological boundaries, fractal landscapes, functional connectivity, hierarchical patch delineation, landscape ecology, PatchMorph, Sacramento River