Working Group 'Spatial Analysis of Organisms in the Environment"

Spatial ecology deals with the spatial distribution of organisms and a general objective of spatial analysis is to reveal the relationship between observed spatial distributions of species and the mechanisms underlying these spatial distributions. The recent advances in analysing spatial patterns of organisms in spatial ecology have greatly contributed to better understanding the distribution of organisms in space and time. 

A prerequisite for exploring the ecological information provided by spatial distributions of organisms is to precisely describe the spatial structure of point patterns with statistical methods. Over the past decades, statisticians have developed structurally different summary statistics for this purpose. Moreover, rapid advances in computer science and technology have resulted in an increased application of spatial statistics. In addition, development of remote sensing and geographic information system (GIS) technology has led to the identification of spatiotemporal patterns of organisms and has increased the possibility to identify how human activities have influenced animal and plant habitats. Consequently, ecologists have started to introduce spatial variation and complexity of ecosystems into their analyses, including changes of spatial patterns over time. 

Our Working Group serves as a forum to develop application-specific approaches for the use of spatial analysis in ecological studies. We perform the following work: 

  • Reveal the importance of the topic and increase the application of spatial analysis among scientists working on ecological dynamics and processes in terrestrial ecosystems  
  • Organize symposia at IALE World or regional meetings where we can explore opportunities for joint research projects between statisticians and ecology scientists.  
  • Set up workshops on related topics (e.g., application of MATLAB, ArcGIS, and R Software such as “Spatial Statistics Tools” in ArcMap and “SPATSTAT” package in R to different topics of spatial ecology)
  • Develop and prepare publications (e.g., special issues in journals, booklets) directly focusing on the topic

The widespread application of spatial analysis in ecological studies makes it possible to consider special parts in IALE World Congresses or related topics in IALE Annual Conferences and prepare special issues to be published by technical journals (e.g., Ecological Modelling, Spatial Statistics).      

All interested colleagues are warmly welcome to contact:
Yousef Erfanifard (erfanifard(at)

Letter from the Working Group leader


The most important activity of our WG in year 2017 was participating in European Landscape Ecology Congress held in 12-15 September, 2017 in Ghent, Belgium. Following one of the primary aims of our WG, we proposed a symposium related to the topic of our WG which the title was: "Exploration of underlying ecological processes by analysis of observed spatial patterns in vegetation ecosystems". The main aim of the suggested symposium was to bring spatial ecologists, researchers, students and other scientists (e.g., statisticians) together to discuss ideas and initiate collaborations that may result in advances in ecological studies not only at patch scale but also at landscape scale.


Regarding to the large number of symposia submitted to the conference, our proposed symposium was joined with another related one and the final title was "Beyond the Mosaic: A better characterization of landscapes would help to understand ecological patterns and processes". We received more than 40 abstracts, however, 16 of them were accepted for oral presentation and six of them were selected to be present as poster. Together with Jacques Baudry (INRA, France) and Felix Herzog (Agroscope, Switzerland), we could have one of the most interesting symposia within the conference as the participants told us.


I, as one of the lecturers, talked about one of the most recent studies performed in Bialowieza Primeval Forest with the cooperation of Dr. Krzysztof Sterenczak entitled "Mixture of Norway spruce and other species modify its negative intraspecific interactions in Bialowieza Primeval Forest, Poland". The topic of this study was completely related to the WG and it was about studying the species coexistence in an old growth forest, explored by spatial pattern analysis. The abstract of the lecture is provided in the following paragraph.


The present spatial structures of old-growth forest stands at fine- and landscape scales mainly result from competitive or facilitative interactions among conspecifics and heterospecifics during succession. Profound influence of these important ecological processes may be characterized by analyzing spatial distribution of individuals at fine scale. Bialowieza Primeval Forest (BPF) is one of the best-preserved forests in the lowland part of Europe which represents an important remnant of temperate broad-leaved forests that once covered most of this continent. Therefore, spatial pattern analysis of focal species in BPF as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites may provide significant insights into mechanisms and processes that maintain species associations in BPF. Main goals of this study were to assess fine-scale spatial patterns of Norway spruce mixed stands and explore how inter- and intraspecific interactions of spruce and other species shape their spatial structure. To accomplish these goals, we investigated the spatial patterns of spruce and its accompanying species within 117 plots that had been established in mixed stands of spruce in BFP. The spatial patterns of trees, considering species and biophysical characteristics were analyzed by univariate and bivariate pair correlation function g(r), density correlation function CmK(r), and mark correlation function kmm(r). In mixed spruce stands, the upper layer was dominated by Scots pine, alder, and hornbeam with a share of more than 31.5% of all species; while spruce was the suppressed species as the most abundant species (over 55.1%). The unimodal shapes of diameter distributions of spruce and other species (117 plots, total area 5.85 ha) with skewness to the right underline the uneven-aged structure of the studied forest. Although the spatial distribution of other species was more clumped than spruce at small spatial scales, the spruce-other species interactions indicated lower interspecific facilitation. Moreover, the results showed that diameter at breast height DBH, of spruce individuals that had conspecifics at neighborhood was significantly less than DBH of spruce that had individuals of heterospecific species. In addition, we found that density of neighboring individuals of heterospecifics had negative effects on the DBH of spruce. We conclude that primeval mixed stands of spruce show aggregated spatial distribution at small spatial scales because of high shade tolerance of spruce. We also found that the aggregation of individuals of spruce around their conspecifics negatively influences the DBH, while this negative effect becomes less when other species are located within neighborhood of spruce.


Furthermore, Dr. Felix Herzog (Agroscope, Switzerland, became interested in the topic of our WG and he accepted our invitation to join us as a member for 2018. We hope our WG would be more active in 2018 to better follow its aims.



Yousef Erfanifard, PhD (the WG leader)

Dept. of Natural Resources and Environment, Shiraz University, Shiraz, Iran


Other Members:
Sima Fakheran, PhD (the president of IALE-Iran)
Dept. of Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Natural Resources, Isfahan University of Technology, Isfahan, Iran
Arne Pommerening, PhD
Dept. of Forest Resource Management, Faculty of Forest Sciences, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences SLU, Umea, Sweden

Hong Hai Nguyen, PhD
Faculty of Silviculture, Vietnam Forestry University, Hanoi, Vietnam

Ion Catalin Petritan
Dept. of Forest Engineering, Faculty of Silviculture and Forest Engineering, Transilvania University of Brasov, Brasov, Romania


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