Ecological responses to habitat edges: Mechanisms, models, and variability explained

Leslie Ries, Robert J. Fletcher, James Battin, Thomas D. Sisk

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1067 Scopus citations


Edge effects have been studied for decades because they are a key component to understanding how landscape structure influences habitat quality. However, making sense of the diverse patterns and extensive variability reported in the literature has been difficult because there has been no unifying conceptual framework to guide research. In this review, we identify four fundamental mechanisms that cause edge responses: ecological flows, access to spatially separated resources, resource mapping, and species interactions. We present a conceptual framework that identifies the pathways through which these four mechanisms can influence distributions, ultimately leading to new ecological communities near habitat edges. Next, we examine a predictive model of edge responses and show how it can explain much of the variation reported in the literature. Using this model, we show that, when observed, edge responses are largely predictable and consistent. When edge responses are variable for the same species at the same edge type, observed responses are rarely in opposite directions. We then show how remaining variability may be understood within our conceptual frameworks. Finally, we suggest that, despite all the research in this area, the development of tools to extrapolate edge responses to landscapes has been slow, restricting our ability to use this information for conservation and management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)491-522
Number of pages32
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
StatePublished - 2004


  • Core area model
  • Ecological boundary
  • Ecotone
  • Edge effect
  • Effective area model
  • Habitat fragmentation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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