New Assessment Tools for Landscape Ecologists

Screenshot of the GUIDOS Interface. Image Credit : Dr. Peter Vogt.

Figure 1: The GUIDOS Interface. Image Credit : Dr. Peter Vogt.

The theme of this year’s International Union of Forest Research Organizations Landscape Ecology (IUFRO-LE) Working Group International Conference — “Sustaining humans and forests in changing landscapes: Forests, society and global change” — represents pressing issues for the scientific community. Recent research underlines rising concern for the conservation and management of forests and changing landscapes to sustain human welfare.

More than 300 delegates from 51 countries presented research at the conference on biodiversity conservation, forest management, ecological processes, ecosystem functions and services, landscape restoration, climate change, socioeconomic connections, urban and land-use issues, and the assessment of spatial pattern and connectivity.

Additional training courses focused on user-friendly software tools, describing the basic concepts and the application possibilities of two recently developed methods for the analysis of landscape connectivity and spatial patterns: Conefor Sensinode and Guidos. These tools are being widely used in different parts of the world and can be combined in a single integrated workflow. They can be downloaded from the Conefor website or EC-JRC Forest website.

Conefor Sensinode is oriented to support decision-making in landscape planning by identifying the key habitat areas and linkages for the maintenance or restoration of landscape connectivity, as resulting from recent developments on graph theory and habitat availability (reachability) metrics. It has found a variety of applications ranging from the United States to China and from Spain to Brazil, as summarized on Conefor Applications homepage.

The Conefor course at the conference synthesized recent conceptual developments and findings, providing an integrated analytical framework and a concise and commensurable set of metrics for landscape connectivity analysis. The framework and metrics are supported by (1) conceptual differences on the roles of habitat patches and links in the landscape network, and (2) statistical findings on the distinctive aspects they quantify for in orienting conservation planning. Practical benefits and applied insights that such framework offers to landscape managers were discussed.

The free software toolbox GUIDOS is designed to provide appropriate tools for the application of recent research studies to scientists and especially newcomers in the field of landscape ecology.

GUIDOS implements new techniques for the morphological analysis of landscape patterns that allow classifying the landscape at the pixel level in a set of mutually exclusive pattern categories related to fragmentation and connectivity, with a solid link to other GIS tools and features.

Figure showing Forest Pattern Analysis of the United States. Image Credit: K. Riitters, U.S. Forest Service;  Peter Vogt.

Figure 2: Forest Pattern Analysis of the United States. Image Credit: K. Riitters, U.S. Forest Service; Peter Vogt.

A specific focus was placed on the transition from raster images to network analysis, including the detection and quantitative assessment of key nodes and links. A similar conceptual approach was applied to highlight key connectivity zones for an efficient increase in landscape connectivity. GUIDOS is being used by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre for the analysis of forest maps, along with the U.S. Forest Service.

A third training course illustrated the potential of the freeware Dinamica EGO, a modeling platform which can be used for environmental studies, focusing on landscape dynamics.

Dinamica EGO provides a complete set of tools to develop landscape dynamics modeling, from analysis of landscape structure to the simulation of spatial patterns of change and model validation. A user-friendly graphical interface is used to setup spatial models by simply dragging and connecting data operators in a model diagram. This approach can be used to design simple static spatial models as well as complex ones, which can ultimately involve nested iterations, multi-transitions, dynamic feedbacks, and multi-region and scale approaches.

The software training courses underlined the importance to provide user-friendly application tools to ecologists, researchers, and land managers. The new tools in pattern and connectivity analysis provide added value in risk assessment studies, landscape planning, and conservation/restoration policies. The provision of software and models dedicated to monitor and quantify landscape changes will contribute to efficient decision-making and facilitate the assessment and progress monitoring of political directives. The IUFRO-LE conference in Chile provided a constructive and productive framework to achieve this goal.

Dr. Peter Vogt is a research scientist in the field of remote-sensing applications. He studied meteorology at the Free University of Berlin, Germany, where he completed his master’s in 1992 and his Ph.D. in 1997 on the assessment of biophysical parameters of vegetation from remote-sensing data. His main expertise is in the field of radiative transfer and program development in IDL on Linux for the exploitation of remote-sensing data.