The landscape is an emergent level of functional complexity. Such a level appears when space and time are extrapolated from an un-scaled functional or structural level. Landscape ecology can describe a part of an ecosystem or a mosaic of interrelated ecosystems. These two visions are not interdependent but they suggest that in nature processes and patterns often appear in a self-similar fashion. Emerging properties at a specific geographical scale and the effect of the composite mosaic are two faces of the same coin. Such emerging characteristics can be interpreted by organisms according to their different life traits. For instance, soil heterogeneity influences vegetation and soil organisms that in turn affect meso and large animals. A common feature of any landscape is its heterogeneity. This heterogeneity may be scaled on structure, water, and nutrients for plants, or on suitable habitat-patches for animals. A matrix in landscape ecology is comprised of the dominant cover of a land mosaic (Forman and Godron 1986) and the physical context of separated patches. Organisms interact with a matrix that is heterogeneous in different ways and at different spatial and temporal resolutions and change the scale to intercept resources (food, water, light, social interactions, etc.).
Every function must find the correct scaled dimension at which to connect the organism with resources. Energy is allocated, removed, or transformed to fulfill such function and feedback mechanisms, which are formally described by ecosystem ecology (Odum 1983, Whittaker 1975). Landscape ecology represents an integrating stage between the consolidated ecosystem paradigm and the "real world" of environmental complexity in space and time.
In conclusion, we could define the landscape as the patterned aspect of complexity. A better description is the environmental context in which biological functions become spatially explicit. This role is fundamental for vegetation ecology as well as animal ecology, and especially in human ecology, but it will require time to be unanimously accepted by researchers and practitioners.
In the following chapters we will develop new ideas to achieve a more precise knowledge of mechanisms that operate in this complex world. Many concepts will be reformulated such as the "domain" paradigm, and others, including the eco-field hypothesis and the mosaic theory, will be revisited and discussed in detail in light of new syntheses.
Landscape ecology has opened a new way to address complexity reducing the gap between the biological and cognitive sciences and between basic research and its application. This effort has opened the road to the formulation of new paradigms and, more generally, to the founding of a new science focused on complexity in which biological processes can be investigated from different perspectives.
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