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Human Modification

Coupled social and ecological processes underlying establishment and function of conservation easements.

Ideally, landscape and conservation planning provide sufficient coverage, spatial representation, and effective placement of land uses to support biodiversity pattern, process, and change. The use of private conservation easements (CE) is one way to accomplish such goals. As a pilot for a nationwide study, we attempt to understand the spatial correlates and biological attributes which influence CE distribution and placement via a spatially-grounded ecological assessment of two western North Carolina counties. We assessed the relative impact of interacting spatial, social, and environmental attributes as related to the Human Modification Index (HMI). The HMI, a robust, statistically derived measure of landscape dynamics, provides a strong indicator of land-use transformation. Pairwise parcel sampling was done by comparing randomly selected points for CE and non-CE parcels having similar characteristics, and non-pairwise sampling was conducted on randomly generated points for CE and non-CE land county-wide. At both levels we tested for difference in HMI between conserved and non-conserved lands. At the parcel level CE lands did not differ from non-CE lands. However, at the county level results varied based on the degree CEs differed from non-CE points as measured by human impact, variation centered on land-use context. Variation in tests for differences (between and within counties) suggested a relationship between point density, spatial correlation, and sample size that leverages the heterogeneity of land-uses as a contributing factor to HMI variation. This trend suggests the degree to which CEs influence the quality of the landscape may depend on spatial context, thereby providing CE location directives.
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