The fractal shape of riparian forest patches

Document Type


Peer Reviewed


Publication Date


Journal/Book/Conference Title

Landscape Ecology

DOI of Published Version


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Remnant patches of a forest corridor were examined along the Iowa and Cedar Rivers, Iowa. A fractal dimension was found for these patches which was incorporated with the perimeter:area ratio in an index of shape. This index was then regressed on 5 hydrogeomorphic variables hypothesized to represent processes which might control patch dimensions, plus a variable to represent human impact. The hydrogeomorphic variables were derived from topographic maps; the impact variable used was the proportion of perimeter that was occupied by a road, railroad, transmission line, urban or other built area, or a straight line judged to be agricultural. Three variables remained significant in a reduced model: human impact, valley width, and stream sinuosity, but together the three accounted for only 24% of the variance in patch shape. The fractal perimeter:area ratio increased with human impact, probably because of reduced area, and decreased with valley width, which allowed more extensive forest on wide floodplains, and with sinuosity, which resulted in small patches isolated on the interior of meanders. These results indicate that in this landscape the hydrogeomorphic structures play a role, but that human impact is more significant in its effect on the shape of remnant forest patches. Other structures, such as the regional topography, may account for the unexplained variance. The index of shape used here may be useful as an independent variable in studies of ecological processes affected by patch shape and form and as a guide to conservation.

Published Article/Book Citation

Landscape Ecology, 4:4 (1990) pp.249-258.

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