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Ecological Landscape

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Ecology is the study of organisms and their environments - and the interrelationships between the two. While the focus of a cultural landscape analysis is on the relationship between humans and the land over time, your ecological landscape analysis will emphasize the non-human organisms with whom we share the local landscape. This distinction is not meant to promote humans as being separate from nature, but rather to draw attention to ways in which we influence (and are influenced by) the non-human components of our landscape. This concept is explored in greater detail in the Integrative Analysis section of this website.

 

The PLACE Program utilizes a "pieces, patterns, and processes" approach to ecological landscape analysis. The pieces can be thought of as the different plant and animal species that inhabit the town, while the patterns are the manner in which they are distributed across the landscape. Processes refer to the forces (such as disturbance, climate, and soil chemistry) that drive these patterns. For example, when analyzing a town from an ornithological perspective, we might ask questions such as: What species of birds species nest in the town, and where? Which birds are common and which are rare? How have their populations changed through time, and why?

To truly understand the pieces, patterns and processes that shape your landscape, you will need to study how the plants and animals of your community respond to their environment though time. Historic maps and census data, combined with current information and field observations will be your best tools for getting to know your ecological landscape. We know that human impact has changed Vermont's ecological landscape enormously over the last 400 years. Some changes are obvious, such as the extinction of certain plant and animal species, but other changes more subtle, like when wildlife (i.e., coyote and fisher) adapt to new habitat opportunities. So as you begin your ecological investigation, be sure to look for patterns in how species have been influenced by changes in the physical and cultural landscape.

On this website we have chosen to break up the ecological landscape into three broad categories based on scale, and a common set of patterns and processes. Plant communities develop and respond to certain elements of the physical environment such as soil structure and chemistry, topography and climate. Wildlife habitat is in part governed by these factors, but is also impacted by vegetative structure and human disturbance on a larger scale. Aquatic communities respond to soil and bedrock chemistry and climate, but are also very much shaped by the properties of water.




Vermont Biodiversity Project
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
The Nature Conservancy



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