The modifiable areal unit problem and implications for landscape ecology

Dennis E. Jelinski, Jianguo Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

598 Scopus citations


Landscape ecologists often deal with aggregated data and multiscaled spatial phenomena. Recognizing the sensitivity of the results of spatial analyses to the definition of units for which data are collected is critical to characterizing landscapes with minimal bias and avoidance of spurious relationships. We introduce and examine the effect of data aggregation on analysis of landscape structure as exemplified through what has become known, in the statistical and geographical literature, as the Modifiable Areal Unit Problem (MAUP). The MAUP applies to two separate, but interrelated, problems with spatial data analysis. The first is the "scale problem", where the same set of areal data is aggregated into several sets of larger areal units, with each combination leading to different data values and inferences. The second aspect of the MAUP is the "zoning problem", where a given set of areal units is recombined into zones that are of the same size but located differently, again resulting in variation in data values and, consequently, different conclusions. We conduct a series of spatial autocorrelation analyses based on NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) to demonstrate how the MAUP may affect the results of landscape analysis. We conclude with a discussion of the broader-scale implications for the MAUP in landscape ecology and suggest approaches for dealing with this issue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-140
Number of pages12
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1996


  • Aggregation
  • Modifiable areal unit problem
  • Scale
  • Spatial analysis
  • Spatial autocorrelation
  • Zoning systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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