Aim: The spatial extent (scale) at which landscape attributes are measured has a strong impact on inferred species-landscape relationships. Consequently, researchers commonly measure landscape variables at multiple scales to select one scale (the 'scale of effect') that yields the strongest species-landscape relationship. Scales of effect observed in multiscale studies may not be true scales of effect if scales are arbitrarily selected and/or are too narrow in range. Miscalculation of the scale of effect may explain why the theoretical relationship between scale of effect and species traits, e.g. dispersal distance, is not empirically well supported. Location: World-wide. Methods: Using data from 583 species in 71 studies we conducted a quantitative review of multiscale studies to evaluate whether research has been conducted at the true scale of effect. Results: Multiple lines of evidence indicated that multiscale studies are often conducted at suboptimal scales. We did not find convincing evidence of a relationship between observed scale of effect and any of 29 species traits. Instead, observed scales of effect were strongly positively predicted by the smallest and largest scales evaluated by researchers. Only 29% of studies reported biological reasons for the scales evaluated. Scales tended to be narrow in range (the mean range is 0.9 orders of magnitude) and few (the mean number of scales evaluated is four). Many species (44%) had observed scales of effect equal to the smallest or largest scale evaluated, suggesting a better scale was outside that range. Increasing the range of scales evaluated decreased the proportion of species with scales of effect equal to the smallest or largest scale evaluated. Main conclusions: To ensure that species-landscape relationships are well estimated, we recommend that the scales at which landscape variables are measured range widely, from the size of a single territory to well above the average dispersal distance.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Characteristic scale, Focal patch, Habitat fragmentation, Landscape composition, Landscape configuration, Scale of response
Persistent URL
Journal Global Ecology and Biogeography
Jackson, H.B. (Heather Bird), & Fahrig, L. (2015). Are ecologists conducting research at the optimal scale?. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 24(1), 52–63. doi:10.1111/geb.12233