The application of local measures of spatial autocorrelation for describing pattern in north Australian landscapes

Diane Pearson

    Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate


    This paper tests the use of a spatial analysis technique, based on the calculation of local spatial autocorrelation, as a possible approach for modelling and quantifying structure in northern Australian savanna landscapes. Unlike many landscapes in the world, northern Australian savanna landscapes appear on the surface to be intact. They have not experienced the same large-scale land clearance and intensive land management as other landscapes across Australia. Despite this, natural resource managers are beginning to notice that processes are breaking down and declines in species are becoming more evident. With future declines of species looking more imminent it is particularly important that models are available that can help to assess landscape health, and quantify any structural change that takes place. GIS and landscape ecology provide a useful way of describing landscapes both spatially and temporally and have proved to be particularly useful for understanding vegetation structure or pattern in landscapes across the world. There are many measures that examine spatial structure in the landscape and most of these are now available in a GIS environment (e.g. FRAGSTATS* ARC, r.le, and Patch Analyst). All these methods depend on a landscape described in terms of patches, corridors and matrix. However, since landscapes in northern Australia appear to be relatively intact they tend to exist as surfaces of continuous variation rather than in clearly defined homogeneous units. As a result they cannot be easily described using entity-based models requiring patches and other essentially cartographic approaches. This means that more appropriate methods need to be developed and explored. The approach examined in this paper enables clustering and local pattern in the data to be identified and forms a generic method for conceptualising the landscape structure where patches are not obvious and where boundaries between landscape features are difficult to determine. Two sites are examined using this approach. They have been exposed to different degrees of disturbance by fire and grazing. The results show that savanna landscapes are very complex and that even where there is a high degree of disturbance the landscape is still relatively heterogeneous. This means that treating savanna landscapes as being made up of homogeneous units can limit analysis of pattern, as it can over simplify the structure present, and that methods such as the autocorrelation approach are useful tools for quantifying the variable nature of these landscapes.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)85-95
    Number of pages11
    JournalJournal of Environmental Management
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2002


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