Riverine landscapes: taking landscape ecology into the water



    1. National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, 735 State Street, Suite 300, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, U.S.A.,
    2. Department of Biology and Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, U.S.A.
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John A. Wiens Department of Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523, U.S.A. E-mail: jaws@lamar.colostate.edu


1. Landscape ecology deals with the influence of spatial pattern on ecological processes. It considers the ecological consequences of where things are located in space, where they are relative to other things, and how these relationships and their consequences are contingent on the characteristics of the surrounding landscape mosaic at multiple scales in time and space. Traditionally, landscape ecologists have focused their attention on terrestrial ecosystems, and rivers and streams have been considered either as elements of landscape mosaics or as units that are linked to the terrestrial landscape by flows across boundaries or ecotones. Less often, the heterogeneity that exists within a river or stream has been viewed as a `riverscape' in its own right.

2. Landscape ecology can be unified about six central themes: (1) patches differ in quality (2) patch boundaries affect flows, (3) patch context matters, (4) connectivity is critical, (5) organisms are important, and (6) the importance of scale. Although riverine systems differ from terrestrial systems by virtue of the strong physical force of hydrology and the inherent connectivity provided by water flow, all of these themes apply equally to aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and to the linkages between the two.

3. Landscape ecology therefore has important insights to offer to the study of riverine ecosystems, but these systems may also provide excellent opportunities for developing and testing landscape ecological theory. The principles and approaches of landscape ecology should be extended to include freshwater systems; it is time to take the `land' out of landscape ecology.