Landscape Patterns and Ecosystem Processes

2008 US-IALE Symposium

Madison, Wisconsin | April 6-10, 2008

Biking on Madison's Extensive Trails - © Sara Mayer, courtesy GMCVB

Plenary Speakers

The plenary speakers for the US-IALE 2008 Madison conference will be:

Gary Lovett
Institute of Ecosystem Studies

Title: Watersheds as Landscape Systems: How Much Do We Need to Know?

Abstract: Ecosystems are usually defined by their spatial homogeneity, while landscapes are often characterized by their spatial heterogeneity. To apply the ecosystem concept to landscapes, it is helpful to view the landscape as a system composed of multiple interacting ecosystems arranged spatially. The landscape system is subject to same mass balance constraints as is each component ecosystem. How much do we need to know about the internal workings of landscape systems in order to understand their functioning? Watersheds are a useful tool for evaluating this question because there are convenient measures of some aspects of whole-system function—particularly water and nutrient balances. In this talk I will examine three conceptual models of watershed structure—homogeneous, mosaic, and interactive—and discuss when each model is useful and when it is not.

About: Dr. Gary Lovett is a Senior Scientist at the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY. He received a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Union College in Schenectady, NY. He abandoned a promising career as a bicycle mechanic to return to graduate school at Dartmouth College, where he received a Ph.D. in Biology in 1981. He was a Research Associate at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee for several years, and in 1985 joined the staff of the Institute of Ecosystem Studies, a private research center focused on ecological science and education. He is also an adjunct professor in ecology at Rutgers University and the University at Albany, and a member of the Graduate Program in Biogeochemistry and Environmental Biocomplexity at Cornell University. He is the chairman of the Northeastern Ecosystem Research Cooperative, the principal scientific organization for ecosystem scientists in the Northeast. Dr. Lovett’s research focuses primarily on the biogeochemistry of forested ecosystems, especially the effects of atmospheric deposition, exotic species and other stresses. His recent research on this subject has taken place in the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley of New York and in Maine, New Hampshire, and Tennessee.

Kimberly With
Kansas State University

Title: Landscape Function and Dysfunctional Landscapes: Decoupling Pattern from Process

Abstract: Landscape and ecosystem function are inextricably linked, to the point that they have become practically synonymous in common usage. Landscapes obviously provide the spatial context for ecosystem processes, but beyond that, what function(s) do landscapes have and how do landscapes function? As a discipline, landscape ecology has distinguished itself from other areas of ecology by its focus on how spatial pattern affects ecological process. Landscape function thus needs to be assessed in terms of the ability to sustain flows of energy, nutrients, information or organisms across a heterogeneous or spatially distributed system. The connectivity of a landscape is therefore one measure of landscape function. Landscape dysfunction results from either the disruption of ecological flows across the landscape, or conversely, from the excessive flow of nutrients and organisms across, and ultimately from, the landscape. This suggests that there is some critical scale at which landscapes achieve optimum functioning, which perhaps reflects the organizing properties of the landscape itself, in terms of how the various formative processes interact to generate and maintain spatial structure and heterogeneity at the landscape scale. Landscape dysfunction may also arise through the simplification or homogenization of landscapes. Habitat is increasingly viewed as an essential function of ecosystems and thus landscapes, given that the structure and availability of habitat is essential for maintaining biodiversity, and thus the capacity of ecosystems to resist or recover from disturbance. Habitat loss and fragmentation pose the biggest threats to the maintenance of biodiversity, and therefore to landscape function. As landscape function becomes compromised through habitat loss and fragmentation, ecological thresholds may be exceeded producing dramatic—and often unexpected—shifts in system states that in some cases are irreversible. The disruption of landscape function ultimately results in the uncoupling of ecological processes from landscape pattern, which is especially evident in the case of past land-use legacies (the ghosts of landscapes past) or where the current rate of landscape transformation exceeds the recovery time of the system, leading to lagged responses (e.g., extinction debts). Through the creation of dysfunctional landscapes, humans have fueled a biodiversity crisis of epic proportions, and have eroded ecosystem goods and services and thus the capacity of landscapes to support viable populations and other vital ecological support systems. By identifying when landscapes become dysfunctional, when pattern and process have become uncoupled, landscape ecology can provide the defining criteria and framework for managing this most significant and urgent of global change problems.

About: Dr. Kimberly With is an Associate Professor of Biology at Kansas State University. Her research has developed at the interface of landscape ecology and conservation biology, driven by a particular (and some would say, peculiar) interest in ecological threshold responses to habitat loss and fragmentation. More generally, her research has broadly considered the effect of landscape pattern on ecological process across a wide range of scales, from that encompassing the fine-scale individual movement responses of insects to heterogeneity within plots of a few square meters, to the effect of land-management practices on the regional viability of grassland birds in landscapes comprising several million hectares. She is a two-time recipient of the US-IALE “Outstanding Paper” award for contributions to the field of landscape ecology (in 1996 and again in 2002), and is currently the Americas Editor for Biological Conservation. The product of several prominent landscape ecologists, she received her Ph.D. from Colorado State University in 1993 and was awarded an Alexander Hollaender Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship (1993-1995) to work with the landscape ecology group at the Environmental Sciences Division of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The rest is history. Native to California, she has since returned to her ancestral roots in the Midwest, thereby single-handedly undoing several generations of westward migration.

Jonathan Foley
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Title: Global Patterns of Land Use: Extensification and Intensification of Agriculture as a Force of Global Environmental Change

Abstract: The massive expansion of agriculture, accelerating from the explosive population and consumption increases of recent decades, has already transformed ~40% of the Earth’s land surface into croplands and pastures. The international research community has started to recognize the importance of these landscapes in the Earth System, especially in terms of our changing climate and carbon cycle. In particular, research efforts have focused on observing, documenting and modeling the expanding patterns of agricultural land use across the globe.

While the geographic expansion (or "extensification") of agriculture is now somewhat better understood, we have a much poorer understanding of the intensification of agricultural practices, often referred to as the "Green Revolution", and what they may mean for the planet. For example, the incredible increase in fertilizer use and irrigation in recent years has help improve crop yields, and may have drastically affected water and nutrient balances across large regions of the globe. Furthermore, traditional cropping practices (e.g., shifting patterns of slash and burn agriculture) are being abandoned in many parts of the world, as more and more regions adopt industrialized agricultural practices.

In this presentation, I will review the changing global patterns of agricultural extensification and intensification, and their potential effects on environmental systems on regional and global scales.

About: Jonathan Foley is the Director of the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE) at the University of Wisconsin, where he is also the Gaylord Nelson Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences. Foley’s work focuses on the behavior of complex global environmental systems and their interactions with human societies. In particular, Foley's research group uses state-of-the-art computer models and satellite measurements to analyze changes in land use, ecosystems, climate and freshwater resources across local, regional and global scales. He and his students and colleagues have contributed to our understanding of large-scale ecosystem processes, global patterns of land use, the behavior of the planet's water and carbon cycles, and the interactions between ecosystems and the atmosphere. Foley joined the University of Wisconsin faculty in 1993 as the first Bryson Distinguished Professor of Climate, People and Environment. He has won numerous awards and honors, including the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development Award, the Samuel C. Johnson Distinguished Faculty Fellowship, the J.S. McDonnell Foundation's 21st Century Science Award, and the Sustainability Science Award from the Ecological Society of America. In 1997, President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. He has also been named a Vilas Associate and Romnes Fellow of the University of Wisconsin, and an Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow of the Ecological Society of America. He is currently the Chief Editor of the interdisciplinary scientific journal, Earth Interactions. Jon is originally from Maine, and has the B.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Steve Carpenter
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Title: Change in Madison's Watersheds and Lakes

Abstract: Visitors to IALE will notice that lakes are the most conspicuous natural feature of the region around Madison. The lakes were a nexus of activity for Native Americans, who established a rich mound-building culture long before the region was settled by Europeans. The natural beauty of the area, and effective politics by real-estate speculators, led to the founding of Madison as the capital of the new state of Wisconsin in 1836. Written accounts from the early years of Madison show that the lakes were clear. By 1870, most of the watershed was plowed, and noxious blooms of algae were common in summer. From about 1870 until the 1950s, the lakes received increasing flows of nutrients, loss of native plant, invertebrate and fish species, and invasions or introductions of several harmful species. Since the 1950s, a series of management actions has attempted to improve water quality and biota of the lakes, with a mix of failures and successes. The talk will provide a brief ecological history of the changes in the lakes due to human intervention, and a glimpse of environmental trends and management opportunities for the next few years.

About: Stephen R. Carpenter is the Stephen Alfred Forbes Professor of Zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Limnology. He directs the North Temperate Lakes Long-Term Ecological Research program, which studies regional change in two fast-growing regions of Wisconsin: the Northern Highlands at the northernmost tip of the state, and the Yahara Watershed around Madison. The projects integrate landscape ecology, hydrology, climate, biogeochemistry, and community ecology as well as economics and human demography. Carpenter's personal research focuses on regime shifts in ecosystems and their implications for managing resilience. He is co-Editor in Chief (with Monica Turner) of Ecosystems, a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the Robert H. MacArthur Award from the Ecological Society of America. Carpenter has published 4 books and over 300 scientific papers. He received a B.A. from Amherst College (1974) and the M.S. and Ph.D. from University of Wisconsin-Madison (1976, 1979). Steve joined the UW-Madison faculty in 1989. For more information see his web site at

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Presentation Schedule and Abstract Listing

A complete schedule and presentation abstract listing has been posted here.

Student Award Program

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Conference Flyer

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