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What is Landscape Permeability?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Landscape permeability is a term used by conservationists to refer to how freely animals can move through a landscape. It has replaced the term “landscape corridor” in discussions of development and natural resource management. Since many animals need lots of room to roam, this permeability is a very important environmental issue, especially for carnivores and large mammals. In many developed countries, landscape permeability must be accounted for in proposals for major development, especially in regions near the wilderness.

Initially, many conservationists believed that wildlife could be served through a series of reserves, protected areas set aside specifically for wild animals and plants. However, they began to realize that despite active reserve systems in many countries, biodiversity was beginning to suffer. Further study revealed that many animals were dying off because they lacked freedom of movement, and that many species were suffering from wilderness fragmentation. The isolated reserves were not adequate for the needs of many wild animals, especially carnivores.

As a result, environmentalists began to push for landscape corridors, protected buffer zones which allowed animals to move through different reserves. However, the application of this term seemed less than ideal, since it conjures up the image of a narrow, walled hallway. A literal corridor would not be terribly effective, so ecologists began to prefer the term “landscape permeability” to discuss this need. The term is a more accurate description of the need for a sort of fluid membrane through which animals trickle at will, rather than a restrictive corridor.

For the concept to work, animals need a large buffer zone which they feel safe in. Technically, this zone could potentially be interspersed with light development or harvest of natural resources, if it is managed well. Rewilding programs push for more landscape permeability, encouraging a reestablishment of wilderness in areas which have been developed. A greater understanding of animal needs has also led to more incorporation of landscape permeability into environmental impact reports and development proposals such as those associated with new highways and home construction.

Many ecologists agree that it is very important to balance the needs of animals with people who might want to share their environment. By accounting for animals with a landscape permeability plan, developers can also promote healthier human/animal relations, reducing hostile encounters which may end unfortunately for both parties. In areas of the world where this concept has been promoted, ecologists have noted a rise in biodiversity, leading to a healthier and more natural environment.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By seag47 — On Nov 06, 2011

@kylee07drg – You were very fortunate to have a developer who actually cared about wildlife. I live near the ocean, and greed plays a big part in construction around here. All anyone seems to care about is getting more condos and hotels up quickly so they can make more money off of tourists.

Five years ago, the area surrounding my house was largely swamp land. Beautiful palm trees were interspersed with tropical bushes, flowers, and vines. This place was home to so many birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish.

Developers decided to drain the swamp and cut all the palm trees down. This killed many animals. The ones that weren't run over by bulldozers had to find shelter elsewhere, but this was the only place for miles around that could serve their unique needs.

There was no landscape permeability. There was nowhere for these animals to cross over to, and they suffered and died. I am glad that some areas of marsh are protected by the government, but I am so sad that this wasn't one of them.

By kylee07drg — On Nov 05, 2011

I live in a town that is very environmentally conscious. The whole area was designed with landscape permeability in mind, and we coexist peacefully with the critters that roam through on their way to new locations.

We have plenty of businesses and homes, but they were all built in close clusters. Forests and hills surround the town, and the developers left those alone.

Though a few trees had to be cleared during construction, they were all cleared from one area, preserving as much of the animals' natural habitat as possible. Because of this, the animals usually keep to the woods.

If we do see something like a coyote or possum crossing through, we know that it is on its way to the hills on the other side of town. However, it doesn't have to come through this way. It could stay on the edge of town and get to the hills through the forest.

By lighth0se33 — On Nov 04, 2011

The problem with landscape permeability is that it is a human concept. An animal is not going to think, “Oh, here is where I should cross through.” It is going to take the nearest path, and if that path is through someone's yard or across a street, that is where it will go.

Sure, an isolated area of permeability would be helpful for some animals who are terrified of noise or humans. However, that fear can sometimes drive them to dart across an area of civilization quickly, sometimes into the path of oncoming traffic.

If anyone is going to develop an area, they should make sure that a high fence is erected everywhere along the edge of the wilderness where it intersects with buildings and people. The open area should be far away from streets or businesses.

By shell4life — On Nov 04, 2011

When I think of development, I think of the addition of new roads or the extension of existing highways. This is terrible for wildlife, because the worst thing for them is to cross the street.

When a developer started building tons of condos to accommodate the growing population in a college town nearby, several new roads were added as well. Sections of forest were stripped, and animals would have to cross the highway to get from one side of the woods to the other.

I think that this was very environmentally irresponsible. The city should have required the developer to take landscape permeability into account. I have seen so many dead animals on those new roads, and their death was no fault of their own.

By croydon — On Nov 04, 2011

@indigomoth - The problem is that birds are one thing, but larger forms of wildlife are something else entirely. People don't want to encourage things like racoons or bears to be wandering through town on their way to another patch of forest, because they can be dangerous.

Even mice will become more abundant if you encourage those kinds of conditions.

And any kind of predator, like for example, wolves in America, is not going to be welcome on farmland either.

So in order to have landscape permeability for larger animals, you really need some kind of fallow land and that is very difficult to find in this day and age.

I am all for conservation, but it isn't a simple problem unfortunately.

By browncoat — On Nov 03, 2011

This is one of the reasons they don't think tigers are going to survive in the wild. There is just no landscape permeability in the areas where they live.

There are still patches of forest where they can survive, even comfortably as individuals. But, these patches can't sustain a viable breeding population, and there's no real way for the tigers to move between the patches.

The people they'd be moving alongside are just too hostile. And you can't really blame them. Tigers are scary, and if you see one it would be difficult to refrain from killing it, particularly if you have livestock and/or children to protect.

But it is a tragedy that these beautiful cats are almost certainly not going to make it.

By indigomoth — On Nov 03, 2011

Landscape permeability is definitely a better term than landscape corridor. I had heard of the need for corridors before, and to be honest I always did think of them as literal corridors. Narrow strips of forested land which connected islands of forest where wildlife could live.

But landscape permeability makes more sense particularly for things like birds.

My city has several wild areas around it, but I imagine the city itself had quite a good landscape permeability. There is a lot of trees and gardens here, and we get a lot of native bird life.

I imagine they don't tend to live in the city, but they definitely feel free to move through it, on the way to better places.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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