Edge influence on forest structure and composition in fragmented landscapes

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Conservation Biology
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Although forest edges have been studied extensively as an important consequence of fragmentation, a unifying theory of edge influence has yet to be developed. Our objective was to take steps toward the development of such a theory by (1) synthesizing the current knowledge of patterns of forest structure and composition at anthropogenically created forest edges, (2) developing hypotheses about the magnitude and distance of edge influence that consider the ecological processes influencing these patterns, and (3) identifying needs for future research. We compiled data from 44 published studies on edge influence on forest structure and composition in boreal, temperate, and tropical forests. Abiotic and biotic gradients near created forest edges generate a set of primary responses to edge creation. Indirect effects from these primary responses and the original edge gradient perpetuate edge influence, leading to secondary responses. Further changes in vegetation affect the edge environment, resulting in ongoing edge dynamics. We suggest that the magnitude and distance of edge influence are a direct function of the contrast in structure and composition between adjacent communities on either side of the edge. Local factors such as climate, edge characteristics, stand attributes, and biotic factors affect patch contrast. Regional factors define the context within which to assess the ecological significance of edge influence (the degree to which the edge habitat differs from interior forest habitat). Our hypotheses will help predict edge influence on structure and composition in forested ecosystems, an important consideration for conservation. For future research on forest edges in fragmented landscapes, we encourage the testing of our hypotheses, the use of standardized methodology, complete descriptions of study sites, studies on other types of edges, synthesis of edge influence on different components of the ecosystem, and investigations of edges in a landscape context.


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