Comparative evaluation of experimental approaches to the study of habitat fragmentation effects

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Ecological Applications


Ecologists have used a variety of comparative mensurative and manipulative experimental approaches to study the biological consequences of habitat fragmentation. In this paper, we evaluate the merits of the two major approaches and offer guidelines for selecting a design. Manipulative experiments rigorously assess fragmentation effects by comparing pre- and post-treatment conditions. Yet they are often constrained by a number of practical limitations, such as the difficulty in implementing large-scale treatments and the impracticality of measuring the long-term (decades to centuries) responses to the imposed treatments. Comparative mensurative studies generally involve substituting space for time, and without pre-treatment control, can be constrained by variability in ecological characteristics among different landscapes. These confounding effects can seriously limit the strength of inferences. Depending on the scale of the study system and how “landscape” is defined, both approaches may be limited by the difficulty of replicating at the landscape scale. Overall, both mensurative and manipulative approaches have merit and can contribute to the body of knowledge on fragmentation. However, from our review of 134 fragmentation studies published recently in three major ecological journals, it is evident that most manipulative and mensurative fragmentation experiments have not provided clear insights into the ecological mechanisms and effects of habitat fragmentation. We discuss the reasons for this and conclude with recommendations for improving the design and implementation of fragmentation experiments.








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