The application of graph theory and percolation analysis for assessing change in the spatial configuration of pond networks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Bath Spa University
  • University of Leeds
  • Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA)


Pond networks support high levels of biodiversity when compared to other freshwater ecosystems such as rivers, lakes and streams. The persistence of species in these small, sometimes ephemeral, aquatic habitats depends on the dispersal of individuals among ponds in the landscape. However, the number of ponds across the landscape is at a historical low as urbanisation and intensified agricultural practices have led to a substantial loss of ponds (nodes in the pond network) over more than a century. Here, we examine the extent and drivers of pond loss in a heavily urbanised landscape (Birmingham, UK) over 105 years and determine how pond loss influences key structural properties of the pond network using graph theoretic approaches. Specifically, we calculated minimum spanning trees (MST) and performed percolation analyses to determine changes in both the spatial configuration and resilience of the pond network through time. Pond numbers declined by 82% between ca1904 and 2009, such that pond density decreased from 7.1 km-2 to 1.3 km-2. The MST analyses revealed increased distance between ponds in the network (i.e. edge length increased) by up to 49% over the 105-year period, indicating that ponds in the modern landscape (2009) were considerably more isolated, with fewer neighbours. This study demonstrates that graph theory has an excellent potential to inform the management of pond networks in order to support ecological communities that are less vulnerable to environmental change.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-225
JournalUrban Ecosystems
Issue number2
Early online date18 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • ponds , fragmentation , stepping stones , resilience , minimum spanning tree , urban ecology