Landscape ecology is a question-driven discipline in which the central question is ‘how does landscape structure affect ecological processes?’ This includes ecological processes at the population, community, and ecosystem levels. At the population level, we might ask whether landscape structure affects reproduction or dispersal. At the community level we might ask whether landscape structure affects predator-prey interactions or the success of invasive species. At the ecosystem level we might ask whether landscape structure affects NPP (net primary productivity), evapotranspiration, or carbon sequestration.
This course takes an approach that is inquiry-based, evidence- and applied research-oriented, as opposed to theory-driven. We consider the questions that landscape ecology addresses and we analyze studies in the primary literature that have addressed these questions. We examine papers that focus on a variety of ecological systems and habitats including wetlands, grasslands, forests, and human-Images, clockwise from top left: Wetland plant functional types around Poyang Lake, China, Dronova et al. 2012; Mixed use U.S. landscape, Cadenasso et al. 2003; Yellowstone fire of 1988, AnneMullen.com; Google Earth image of a rural village in the Himalaya dominated, multiple-use landscapes. Assigned readings emphasize current literature while lectures and class discussion will cover topics from some additional foundational papers and texts. Although theory is not the focus of the course, we will introduce and discuss some theoretical concepts as needed in order to convey the fundamental principles in the field.
This course has these main areas of focus:
1. Does landscape structure, including variability in both space and time, affect ecological processes? We consider ecological processes at the population, community, and ecosystem levels.
2. What are the characteristics of landscape structure that are used to address question #1? These include patch sizes and distances, the nature of edge-influenced area and patch-interior area, the nature of the landscape matrix as it affects different species, and other topics.
3. What are the causes of landscape structure and heterogeneity, both natural and human-caused? Natural causes include physiographic variability and disturbance regimes. Human causes include resource extraction, land use / land cover change, habitat fragmentation, and others.