Visual Aesthetics in Environmental Heterogeneity

Environmental heterogeneity as a bridge between ecosystem service and visual quality objectives in management, planning and design

Iryna Dronova, Assistant Professor, Landscape Architecture + Environmental Planning

Project Description

Environmental heterogeneity has recently received increased attention due to its effect on biological diversity, ecosystem services and ecological resilience to disturbance and hazards. However, its relationships with landscape complexity as an indicator of visual aesthetic quality have not been yet extensively discussed. The purpose of this paper is to review different dimensions of environmental heterogeneity and to explore their potential for bridging visual quality with provision of other ecosystem services and resilience in landscape design, management and planning. This synthesis reveals the substantial overlap between spatial and temporal indicators of heterogeneity from ecological literature and the indicators of visual complexity, diversity and variety from the studies of subjective preferences and objective scenic beauty criteria.

The potential of heterogeneity is also reviewed in the context of the relationship between visual quality and ecological resilience to perturbations, an increasingly important objective in the face of the global environmental change. The limitations of heterogeneity as a design and management goal are also discussed, including links between heterogeneity and disturbance, undesirable outcomes of excessive landscape complexity and present lack of criteria for its optimal levels. The synthesis concludes by identifying the key strategies and research needs to facilitate the application of this concept towards multi-functional landscapes supporting versatile ecosystem services together with scenic priorities.

One of the most challenging tasks in present-day environmental planning is reconciling the long-term objectives concerning ecosystem services, conservation and protection against hazards with more immediate needs to improve and maintain visual landscape quality affecting human perception and valuation of places (1). This task requires an in-depth understanding of how ecological functions underlying critical ecosystem services affect landscape composition, structure and dynamics contributing to visual quality. In particular, environmental heterogeneity, broadly denoting non-uniformities in physical and ecological landscape characteristics, has been shown to influence biodiversity (2), resilience of natural and human ecosystems to stressors (3), agricultural productivity (4) and landscape complexity related to visual aesthetic quality and preferences (5). However, despite the abundant research on the links between visual quality and complexity, their ecological underpinnings have not yet been extensively discussed, and the potential of environmental heterogeneity to sustain both landscape aesthetic benefits and ecological functionality remains under-studied.

Full article published in Landscape and Urban Planning, Volume 163, July 2017, Pages 90–106

  1. Allan et al., 2015; Daniel, 2001; de Groot, Alkemade, Braat, Hein, & Willemen, 2010; Gobster, Nassauer, Daniel, & Fry, 2007; Kremen, 2005; Parrott and Meyer, 2012.
  2. Cardinale et al., 2006; Mace, Norris, & Fitter, 2012; Stein, Gerstner, & Kreft, 2014; Tscharntke et al., 2012.
  3. Hodbod, Barreteau, Allen, & Magda, 2016; Levine et al., 2016; Oliver et al., 2015.
  4. Kremen & Miles, 2012; Ostman, Ekbom, & Bengtsson, 2001.
  5. De la Fuente de Val, Atauri, & de Lucio, 2006; Hasund, Kataria, & Lagerkvist, 2011; Junge, Schuepbach, Walter, Schmid, & Lindemann-Matthies, 2015; Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989; Lindemann-Matthies, Briegel, Schupbach, & Junge, 2010.