The fractal dimension as a measure of the quality of habitats

Acta Biotheoretica 52 (1) (2004)
Abstract
Habitat fragmentation produces isolated patches characterized by increased edge effects from an originally continuous habitat. The shapes of these patches often show a high degree of irregularity: their shapes deviate significantly from regular geometrical shapes such as rectangular and elliptical ones. In fractal theory, the geometry of patches created by a common landscape transformation process should be statistically similar, i.e. their fractal dimensions and their form factors should be equal. In this paper, we analyze 49 woodlot fragments (Pinus sylvestris L.) in the Belgian Kempen region to study the direct relationship between a transformation process and the concomitant patch geometry. Although the fractal dimension of the woodlots is scattered (i.e. they are not statistically similar), the perimeter-area relation of the fragments is characterized by a single, ‘dimension-like’ exponent. This exponent suggests a certain shape homogeneity among the patches, which is confirmed by the absence of hierarchical levels associated with sharp increases of the fractal dimension at scale transitions. The interaction of different natural (soil factor, vegetation type) and anthropogenic (afforestation, urbanization) processes during patch development is assumed to have generated this feature. Comparison of the area and perimeter fractal dimension with an ecological index for habitat quality, the interior-to-edge ratio, shows that the fractal dimension is suitable for predicting interior habitat presence, which is more likely for patches with smooth perimeters and compact areas. The ratio of the area to the perimeter fractal dimension confirms this observation, with high values for high interior-to-edge ratios, characteristic for regularly shaped patches.
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