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Seminar at Texas A&M: Sustainability Science and the Great Lakes Social-Ecological Gradient

In late February I visited my friend and colleague Jason Martina at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. For several years, Jason and I have been collaborating on augmenting and applying the Mondrian model of wetland community-ecosystem processes. For research funded under a current NASA grant, We are working together to add denitrification and phosphorous cycling to the Mondrian model.

While there, I gave a joint departmental seminar to the Departments of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Ecosystem Science and Management, titled “A sustainability science perspective on the regional scale gradient in forest cover in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes basin.” This is the abstract from the seminar:

Sustainability as a framework for considering human and ecological interactions has evolved over more than three decades. In 2007, the National Academy of Sciences named Sustainability Science as a new branch of science, fundamentally interdisciplinary and defined by the complexity and scales of the questions it addresses. This year, the University of Michigan recently opened the doors of a new School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS), after a two-year restructuring process in which Prof. Currie was closely involved. In this seminar, Dr. Currie will discuss sustainability as an evolving area of research into social, ecological, and economic interactions that shape the trajectories of landscapes and regions. He will introduce the regional scale as a useful framework for understanding landscape change and briefly present a variety of ecological and social-ecological research projects he has contributed to in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes basin. In this region, there is a dramatic large-scale social-ecological gradient from wildlands in northern Michigan (sometimes called the “Northwoods”) to completely human-dominated agricultural landscapes in Ohio, with gradients of forest patches and fragmentation between. There are historical reasons for this north-south gradient, including differences in soils and climate that led to either the historical success or failure of agriculture. After clearing in the late 19th century, the northern part of the region went through the ‘forest transition’ in which second-growth forests re-grew and are now managed by state or Federal agencies or by private households. A century later, this second-growth forest is now being increasingly fragmented by the expansion of human settlements. Some research suggests that agriculture could move northward with climate change or if irrigation water, which is plentiful in the Great Lakes, becomes scarce in other regions. The expansion of biofuel production at the industrial scale is another potential threat to forests of the region. Dr. Currie will present research on forest fragmentation and landscape carbon storage as social-ecological phenomena and illustrate how research on these questions is contributing to an increased understanding of social-ecological interactions.