Is the Landscape a Unit or a System

For many scientists, a landscape is a large area in which it is possible to study processes and patterns that have huge dimensions, but landscapes are a matter of scale; are they then entities/units or simply a domain?

If we observe large areas, for instance from an airplane, is this area actually a landscape or is the landscape a cognitive domain?

The major problem in defining the landscape consists in the duality by which we can see the landscape as a unit or as a system.

If we consider the landscape as a unit, we have to recognize the character of such a unit, specifically the autopoietic character, or, in other words, the capacity for self-organizing and self-maintaining through the use of inner forces and processes. If the landscape is a unit, it must have a defined border (Fig. 2.3) and must be distinguished from its surroundings.

A landscape as a unit would have the character of an organism and would behave as an autopoietic entity, with a circular closure dependent on inner characters and weakly influenced by external input.

The problem in defining a unit (conceptual or physical) is to distinguish it from its background. And one needs a large-scale vision to include the unit on a background. Often we select for our convenience a "piece of land" and we define this

Fig. 2.3 Landscape can be defined as a unit when it works in isolation like an island in the ocean. All the properties are inside the unity. A landscape is a system when the combination of separate entities creates emergent properties such as connectivity. A system is based on processes

as a landscape unit but this operation is without sense and is destined to fail. If we consider the landscape as a system, it exists only if the composing parts interact with each other.

For instance, a man is a unit, a separate autopoietic entity, but contemporarily is a part of the society. In this latter case, he is part of a society if there are other men around, but if he is Robinson Crusoe he is only an entity.

A landscape is at the same time a unit and a system, depending on the role and the local conditions. As a consequence of this fundamental distinction, the approach used to investigate properties and the related metrics must be selected consequently.

Unit and system views have in common the space. This is a very important element of distinction of a landscape from other ecological agencies that we will discuss later.

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