Edge effect: what it is and consequences - Summary

Help the development of the site, sharing the article with friends!

The edge effect is produced by the loss and fragmentation of habitats and, as a result, is one of the many factors that increase the vulnerability to extinction of species of flora and fauna. If we talk about history, the concept of edge effect began to have more relevance as the impact that deforestation has on biodiversity was understood. However, at present the term edge effect is also taken into account in the design of protected areas, since the most effective protected areas are those with the lowest relationship between the edge and its surface.

Referring to this topic, in this post by Ecologist Verde we will develop the explanation about what is edge effect. We will also mention how it relates to habitat fragmentation and what consequences does the edge effect have, so that you can clarify all your doubts on the subject.

What is the edge effect

The edge effect refers to the modifications in the biotic and physical processes of an ecosystem that arise as a result of an abrupt transition in an area that was previously homogeneous. In other words, it is the effect produced by the interruption of the continuity of habitats that were adjacent. The most frequent causes of said interruption are mostly related to human activities, such as:

  • Construction of routes and roads.
  • Urbanization.
  • Forest fires, which can be natural or intentional.

The magnitude of the edge effect will depend on how great the contrast is between the two new areas that were previously continuous. Here are some examples of this effect:

Edge effect in the Amazon rainforest

An example of an edge effect is the one produced by the intense deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Here there is no transition area, but rather the jungle culminates with steep edges contrasting with a completely razed area. Precisely the contrast is so great that it ends up causing modifications in the microclimate of the jungle.

Edge effect in the Australian rainforest

The edge effect in forests tends to have a greater impact. In this sense, the Australian rainforest has been fragmented and, although the effects are most notable 200 meters from the edge, modifications have been noted up to more than 500 meters from the edge. This is because the impact of the wind on the forest increased and resulted in more dryness of the soil, less humidity in the air and greater loss of water from the surface of the leaves. Undoubtedly, these changes in the microclimate have a severe impact on the plant species of the forest.

Edge effect and habitat fragmentation

Habitat fragmentation is a process by which a continuous area of habitats is reduced and divided into fragments. As a result of this process, which causes the degradation of the ecosystem, the fragments are isolated from each other, separated by a completely modified landscape. This isolation between fragments causes the so-called barrier effect that has strong consequences on biodiversity. In a continuous environment, seed and spore dispersal and animal movement occurs actively across the landscape. In a fragmented environment, barriers are created that impede the processes of dispersal and colonization of populations, as well as the search for food of individuals.

So how is the edge effect linked to habitat fragmentation? Well, both aspects are closely related since the edge effect is a consequence of habitat fragmentation And as the fragmentation of ecosystems increases, the ratio of the edge to the surface of the remaining or remaining fragments or habitats increases and, in conclusion, the edge effect increases.

Consequences of the edge effect

In the development of this post we have already mentioned that the consequences of the edge effect are linked to modifications in the biotic and physical processes of an ecosystem.

  • The changes in the physical processes of an ecosystem caused by the edge effect are reflected in alterations of the microenvironment, which includes an increase in the incidence of solar rays, wind and rain. In short, they are observed changes in microclimate, specifically in climatic factors, such as humidity, wind and temperature.
  • They are also observed changes in soil nutrients and increased fire frequency.
  • The edge effect also produces modifications in the biotic processes associated with the species composition and interaction between them, especially in their respective patterns of competition and predation. This is explained by the fact that the edge effect can become a death trap for some species, because specimens close to the edge are more exposed to predators or poachers compared to if they were in an area far from the edge.
  • Likewise, the modifications in the microenvironment mentioned favor the colonization of exotic species, which compete for resources with native species and often end up displacing them.

Now that you have better known the edge effect, you may be interested in knowing the ecological corridors: what they are, types and importance by reading this other post. We also encourage you to get to know habitats and ecosystems better by reading these other articles on Habitat Types and How an ecosystem works.

If you want to read more articles similar to Edge effect: what it is and consequences, we recommend that you enter our category of Other environment.

  • Primack, R., Rozzi, R., Feinsinger, P., Dirzo, R., & Massardo, F. (1998). Fundamentals of biological conservation. Latin American perspectives.
  • Santos, T., & Tellería, J. L. (2006). Loss and fragmentation of habitat: effect on the conservation of species. Ecosystems, 15 (2).
You will help the development of the site, sharing the page with your friends
This page in other languages: