What happens at one place in a landscape influences and is influenced by what happens in other places. Consequently, management and restoration that focus on individual places may fail to recognize and incorporate interactions across entire landscapes. The science of landscape ecology, which emphasizes the interplay of landscape structure, function, and change at multiple scales, offers a perspective that can integrate the spatial relationships of ecological processes and the functional interconnections of land and water in the Delta.
Although the Delta is one of the most studied estuaries in the world, applications of landscape science have been limited. We describe why it is important to incorporate landscape science into management and restoration, emphasizing how Delta landscapes have changed over the past centuries. The land–water linkages of the past have been broken, waterways have been over-connected, and hard boundaries have replaced the gradual and dynamic transitions among landscape patches.
The contemporary landscape also has new, novel assemblages of species and stressors that were not there in the past. This historical perspective indicates how knowledge of past landscape functions can contribute to the restoration and management of contemporary landscapes. We illustrate these points with case studies of inundation dynamics and riparian woodlands, and use a third example to describe a landscape approach to restoration.
We propose that science that encompasses the multiple, interacting components of functional landscapes in the Delta will foster resilient and enduring restoration and management outcomes that benefit both people and wildlife. We suggest several ways of moving landscape science to the forefront of management and restoration in the Delta.