Evaluating the Environmental Quality of Forest Remnants Using Landscape Metrics
This study aims to assess the environmental quality of forest remnants in the river basins of Campinas municipality/SP, Brazil, using a set of structural landscape metrics. To achieve this aim, for each remnant, total and nuclear, the edge index, distance from nearest neighbour, proximity to watercourses, water spring, land use/land cover in the surrounding area, and potential soil erodibility were determined. The environmental quality was assessed by applying an analytic hierarchy process (AHP) to enable the weighting for the relative importance of each criterion to be calculated. We also intended to ascertain whether the current conditions of land use and occupation in the river basins, as well as other factors associated with anthropogenic pressures or natural conditions, have an impact on the current state of these remnants. The final goal was to produce maps that show the environmental quality of each remnant, which can serve as an important tool and support for the management of natural vegetation endorsed by public authorities.
Forests supply crucial ecosystem services vital to sustainable development and human wellbeing and play a chief role in achieving the several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations 2030 Agenda. Remnant forests are natural areas of exceptional ecological value, particularly when located in intensively exploited landscapes, such as the area under study. In this study, a total of 2319 forest remnants were characterized using a set of structural landscape metrics, and their environmental quality was assessed by applying an analytical hierarchy process. Among the indicators analysed, the presence of water springs and the circularity index were the factors that most determined environmental quality. The results show that only a hundred of the remaining areas have high or very high environmental quality. The vast majority have a medium or low environmental quality, which is related to their small size, their elongated shape, and their proximity to highly anthropized areas that exert strong pressure on the remnants.
Evaluating the environmental quality of forest remnants at the hydrographic basin and municipal scale, especially based on spatial analyses, seems to be an effective tool for municipal authorities as it provides useful guidelines to inform urban planning and municipal environmental management. The use of landscape metrics proved to be effective to assess the environmental quality of remnants, and this approach can therefore be recommended as an instrument for the primary evaluation of natural vegetation remnants in different geospatial areas and phytophysiognomic environments.
Although using an Environmental Quality Index proved to be effective for this study, it might be necessary to adjust the selected indicators and the coefficients associated with each indicator considered if it is applied to other regions whose characteristics are significantly different, such as other biomes. The AHP offers a fitting solution for modelling complex problems with its hierarchical structure; however, because of its subjective nature, in future research, the AHP should be combined with some objective methods (such as the entropy weight method) to comprehensively consider the decision of coefficient.
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