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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

4 - Spatial variation in ecosystems


Two fundamental and interconnected themes in ecology are the development and maintenance of spatial and temporal pattern, and the consequences of that pattern for the dynamics of populations and ecosystems.

(Levin 1992, p. 1959)


Since the seminal contribution by Clark (1976), economists have sought to develop spatial models of resource management in a variety of contexts, including renewable resource harvesting, deforestation, mining, biological invasion, coastal services, and marine reserve establishment. Although ecology has long been interested in the spatial pattern and geographical distribution of organisms, since the 1980s ecologists have increasingly acknowledged the importance of spatial scale in influencing the structure and functions of ecosystems. The aim of this chapter is to show how the latter spatial considerations also matter in the treatment of ecosystems as natural assets.

Chapter 3 suggested that by adopting ecological landscape, or land area, as the basic unit, modeling an ecosystem as a natural asset is relatively straightforward. The natural asset model developed in the chapter demonstrated the likely ecological and economic tradeoffs that occur when an ecological landscape is converted as opposed to conserved or even possibly restored. Although the flow of ecosystem services provided by the landscape was critical to assessing these tradeoffs over time, there was no explicit discussion about how the spatial pattern of the ecological production of these services might vary across the landscape.

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