US-IALE 2010 Notes

The 25th US-IALE annual meeting I attended in Athens, Georgia, a couple of weeks ago was notable for the presence of so many important figures in the field of landscape ecology. Several gave interesting plenary talks and the Presidents Symposium had presentations by many of the previous US-IALE Presidents and past editors of the journal Landscape Ecology. I also attended interesting presentations and discussion in the wildfire symposium and elsewhere.

Plenary Presentations
In the introductory plenary Profs. Richard Forman, Gary Barrett and Monica Turner gave their views on the origins and state of the field. Forman described his PhD work, rooted in the theory of island biogeography, in a Pine barrens landscape. He told how he suddenly realised he had been ignoring the context of his ‘islands’ and decided to look at how he might consider his study area as a landscape of patches arranged in a mosaic. He also talked about the ‘ecumenicalism of landscape ecology’ and how it is an important field for the development of interdisciplinary human-environment research.

Barrett spoke about the importance of the Allerton Park meeting in 1983 and the relationship of landscape ecology to the LTER network. He highlighted that landscape ecology is a ‘meeting point of [ecological] theory and application’ and the creation of the journal Ecological Applications (but also noted the creation 27 years earlier of the Journal of Applied Ecology).

Turner, the organiser of the very first US-IALE meeting, pointed out how similar current research themes are to those of 25 years ago. Questions still of relevance to landscape ecology include those about the relative importance of different drivers of ecological patterns and the importance of heterogeneity for driving ecosystem processes and species interactions.

Of the other plenary presentations, I found Joe Tainter’s presentation very interesting. His ‘big’ talk discussed the rise and fall of civilisations from the perspective of social and cultural complexity and Energy Return On Energy Investment (EROEI). He highlighted that sustaining complex societies requires a high EROEI and used the Roman and Byzantine Empires as examples to illustrate this. He stressed that sustainability is an active condition of problem solving – the capacity for which must itself be sustained – and questioned whether renewable energy resources (such as solar and wind power) have sufficient EROEI to allow us to do that in the future.

Presidents Symposium
In the Presidents Symposium, Jianguo Wu provided a pluralistic and hierarchical perspective of landscape ecology. Wu argued that the goal of landscape ecology should not just be about reporting on landscapes but about changing them. He also argued that the human landscape is the ‘most operational spatial scale for sustainability science’. He highlighted the formation of two new sections in the landscape ecology journal; ‘Landscape Ecology in Review’ and ‘Landscape Ecology in Practice’.

These issues were taken up later in the same session by Paul Opdam who discussed the transfer of pattern-process knowledge to society (as he wrote about with Joan Iverson Nassauer). He argued that there are three ways to do this; i) by asking questions about how our scientific knowledge is used in practice by planners, managers and stakeholders, ii) developing methods by testing them in practice, and iii) co-producing knowledge with non-scientists. He also argue that practical application of knowledge is the key methods for the ‘learning scientist’ and that research along these lines would be welcomed in the Landscape Ecology in Practice section of the journal.

Wildfire Symposium
The wildfires session contained some familiar faces. Rachel Loehman and Maureen Kennedy presented progress on their wildfire-related models and Don McKenzie outlined his efforts to take much of the recent work towards a coherent ‘theory of landscape fire’. The key elements to this theory he suggested would be energy, regulation (management) and scaling. In particular he emphasizes that we need to work hard on understanding the importance of landscape memory and the legacy of previous wildfire events on future ones.

Particularly encouraging to see was the work by Paul Hessburg and Nick Povak on self-organization and wildfire scaling in California (using data for 1950-2007). They argued that broken-stick regression is needed to represented their wildfire frequency-area data, as scale free power-law behaviour is only present across about two orders of magnitude in the medium size fires. At the lower end of the frequency-area distribution (smaller, frequent fires) they suggested bottom-up controls on the wildfire regime due to insects, stand dynamics and topography, and at the upper end of the frequency-area distribution (larger, infrequent fires) they suggested top-down controls on the wildfire regime due to climate and geology. This work examining the drivers of different wildfire regime scaling statistics certainly seems to be the way to go.

Other Discussions
My presentation seemed to go down well and I got some interesting questions. Frederik Doyon of Université du Québec en Outaouai was particularly interested in our work in the mixed hardwood-conifer forests of Michigan. Also in my session, Maria Santos presented her work comparing culture and ecology between the Mediterranean oak woodland landscapes of Portugal and California. We discussed some of the links between her work and my PhD research.

All round it was a good meeting with some interesting discussions in the various plenary session, symposia and in the pub. Here’s to another 25 years of US-IALE.

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