Five main phases of landscape degradation revealed by a dynamic mesoscale model analysing the splitting, shrinking, and disappearing of habitat patches
WoS ID: 000477950800072
Scopus ID: 85070937532
PubMed ID: 31366970
The ecological consequences of habitat loss and fragmentation have been intensively studied on a broad, landscape-wide scale, but have less been investigated on the finer scale of individual habitat patches, especially when considering dynamic turnovers in the habitability of sites. We study changes to individual patches from the perspective of the inhabitant organisms requiring a minimum area for survival. With patches given by contiguous assemblages of discrete habitat sites, the removal of a single site necessarily causes one of the following three elementary local events in the affected patch: splitting into two or more pieces, shrinkage without splitting, or complete disappearance. We investigate the probabilities of these events and the effective size of the habitat removed by them from the population's living area as the habitat landscape gradually transitions from pristine to totally destroyed. On this basis, we report the following findings. First, we distinguish four transitions delimiting five main phases of landscape degradation: (1) when there is only a little habitat loss, the most frequent event is the shrinkage of the spanning patch; (2) with more habitat loss, splitting becomes significant; (3) splitting peaks; (4) the remaining patches shrink; and (5) finally, they gradually disappear. Second, organisms that require large patches are especially sensitive to phase 3. This phase emerges at a value of habitat loss that is well above the percolation threshold. Third, the effective habitat loss caused by the removal of a single habitat site can be several times higher than the actual habitat loss. For organisms requiring only small patches, this amplification of losses is highest during phase 4 of the landscape degradation, whereas for organisms requiring large patches, it peaks during phase 3.