Biological Consequences of Ecosystem Fragmentation: A Review

Denis A. Saunders, Richard J. Hobbs, Chris R. Margules

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3066 Citations (Scopus)


Abstract. Abstract Research on fragmented ecosystems has focused mostly on the biogeograpbic consequences of the creation of habitat “islands” of different sizes and has provided little of practical value to managers. However, ecosystem fragmentation causes large changes in the physical environment as well as biogeograpbic changes. Fragmentation generally results in a landscape that consists of remnant areas of native vegetation surrounded by a matrix of agricultural or other developed land. As a result fluxes of radiation, momentum (La, wind), water, and nutrients across the landscape are altered significantly. These in turn can have important influences on biota within remnant areas, especially at or near the edge between the remnant and the surrounding matrix. The isolation of remnant areas by clearing also has important consequences for the biota. These consequences vary with the time since isolation distance from other remnants, and degree of connectivity with other remnants. The influences of physical and biogeographic changes are modified by the size, shape, and position in the landscape of individual remnant, with larger remnants being less adversely affected by the fragmentation process. The Dynamics of remnant areas are predominantly driven by factors arising in the surrounding landscape. Management of, and research on, fragmented ecosystems should be directed at understanding and controlling these external influences as much as at the biota of the remnants themselves. There is a strong need to develop an integrated approach to landscape management that places conservation reserves in the context of the overall landscape

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-32
Number of pages15
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1991
Externally publishedYes


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