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US Forest Service Research & Development
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Monitoring Landscape Patterns

Landscape patterns can be seen in three digital views of a rural landscape near Randall, MN (top right photograph). The land cover is primarily forest and agriculture (top left). Morphological analysis reveals connections (red) between large forest patches (center left). Image convolution shows the local dominance of forest in green colors, agriculture in blue, and built-up areas in red (bottom left). Photo credit: Google Earth.
Landscape patterns can be seen in three digital views of a rural landscape near Randall, MN (top right photograph). The land cover is primarily forest and agriculture (top left). Morphological analysis reveals connections (red) between large forest patches (center left). Image convolution shows the local dominance of forest in green colors, agriculture in blue, and built-up areas in red (bottom left). Photo credit: Google Earth.

The landscape patterns that you see from an airplane window are not only beautiful but can also be good predictors of ecosystem health and productivity. When landscapes change due to natural or human disturbances, the resulting ecological impacts depend on the new spatial patterns created in a web of natural resources and human land uses. But which patterns matter most for sustaining ecosystem health and productivity, and where do they occur? In a new era of satellite-based resource mapping and inventory, this international research project is focused on training computers to "see" and measure changing landscape patterns using global digital maps. Over the past decade, researchers from the Southern Research Station and the European Commission Joint Research Centre have collaborated to develop novel approaches to monitoring forest fragmentation, urban sprawl, and natural disturbance. The researchers have established morphological spatial pattern analysis, which quantifies the level of connection or adjacency within a landscape, and multi-scale image convolution, a technique that can determine how changes in one piece of the landscape affect the surrounding pieces, as fundamental tools for landscape pattern analysis. Their studies have improved consistency of forest assessments across the globe. Within the United States, the results have been applied in numerous Forest Service resource assessments in support of the Forest Health Monitoring Program, the Forest Inventory and Analysis Program, the Resource Planning Act Assessment, the National Report on Sustainable Forests, and related agency and inter-agency programs at national and global scales.

CONTACT: Kurt Riitters

Key Publications

Decline of forest interior conditions in the conterminous United States Scientific Reports 2(653):1-4.

Spatial patterns of land cover in the United States: a technical document supporting the Forest Service 2010 RPA Assessment Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-136. Asheville, NC: Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Southern Research Station. 64 p.

Mapping spatial patterns with morphological image processing Landscape Ecology 22:171-177.

Neutral model analysis of landscape patterns from mathematical morphology Landscape Ecology 22:1033-1043.

Mapping landscape corridors Ecological Indicators 7:481-488.

Mapping functional connectivity Ecological Indicators 9:64-71.

A global evaluation of forest interior area dynamics using tree cover data from 2000 to 2012 Landscape Ecology. 12 p. 10.1007/s10980-015-0270-9