Traditionally a great deal of natural resources management has involved field-based surveys and plans, explains Hong S. He, Associate Professor of Forestry in the School of Natural Resources at MU. But recently these scientists and managers have come to realize that they also need to pay attention to the larger spatial configuration of natural resources. This realization has a lot of implications for wildlife conservation and biodiversity: “You can’t really consider one spot without considering the things around it,” he explains. Wildlife species require, for instance, multiple habitats, and watershed problems have shown that “if we pollute one area, it can spread over the landscape.” As an area of research, landscape ecology refers to the study of response to various natural and social factors over large spatial and temporal domains.
Going far beyond maps, as one might presume, “Geography is the study of human-environment interactions,” explains Soren Larsen, Assistant Professor of Geography at MU. The discipline as a whole covers activity ranging from physical geography (e.g., wind erosion and weather patterns), techniques (e.g., modeling air pollution with GIS, or Geographic Information Systems, to understand the interactions between humans and the environment), and something called human geography, a subfield that focuses on the political, economic, cultural, urban, and regional elements of human-environment interactions. Human geographers cast their eyes on “the impact of the environment on human behavior,” as well as “the impact of human activity on the environment.” Within human geography Larsen specializes in cultural geography. While traditionally that may have entailed mapping the distribution of various cultural traits to track changes over space and time, cultural geography today is much more process-focused, drawing heavily upon the methodologies and theories of anthropology, psychology, sociology, and philosophy.
He started out in the area of soil research, which was highly field-oriented at the time, consisting largely of digging up samples and identifying types. “When the GIS became available, that drew me into the technology. . . . I realized that a lot of the mapping and analytical work can be done with a computer.” He has now spent a decade in forestry research.
Hong He has observed that many students tend to be drawn to MU’s School of Natural Resources because of their desire to be outdoors studying wildlife in forests and woods. One of He’s goals was to bring students back into the classroom by building up their knowledge and skills with GIS and spatial analysis. Owing to He’s efforts, MU now has both a successful GIS certification program at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Hong S. He’s research projects in landscape ecology include Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing applications (such as satellite imagery and aerial photography), both of which are put to work in making important forestry management decisions.
Larsen gathers his data through a variety of different methods ranging from ethnographic field research to content analysis and GIS. But the method he prefers is called “participant observation,” an approach in which “you go and live with the people for an extended period of time, so you can start to learn how they think and feel and act.” In fact, Larsen considers participant observation to be a base line for all the research he does because “you gain an insight by participating in the culture.”
“Geography is the study of human-environment interactions,” Larsen says of his discipline. It covers activity ranging from physical geography (e.g., wind erosion, weather patterns), techniques (e.g., modeling air pollution with GIS to understand the interactions between human and environment), and human geography. Human geographers focus on the political, economic, cultural, urban, and regional elements of human-environment interactions, looking at “the impact of the environment on human behavior,” as well as the “impact of human activity on the environment.” Within this subfield Larsen specializes in cultural geography, seeking to understand traditional land-use practices, naming practices, and sense of place.