The late William “Bill” Porter, one of the editors of Wildlife Management and Landscapes (WML), was a fan of making up adages to lighten the mood in complex ecological discussions with his students. One of my favorites was, “Ecology isn’t rocket science… it’s much harder!” because it holds up for so many wildlife species and ecological systems. What Bill meant by this statement is that, absent laws and theories to describe the natural world as it relates to ecology, ecologists and managers must seek creative solutions to unravel the inherent intractability in ecology.
Translating decades worth of ecological research into strategies to manage wildlife populations and their habitats across large landscapes is perhaps one of the greatest intractable ecological problems. Landscapes are constantly in flux—from the soil beneath the ground which houses diverse microorganisms that dictate the form and structure of the vegetation on the surface, to the jet streams pushing weather around the globe. Against the backdrop of these highly variable spaces are humans with an array of values, political boundaries, and management jurisdictions. Suffice to say, the ecology of managing wildlife on landscapes is hard!
Landscape ecology provides a framework for unravelling this complexity to help ecologists understand the major drivers of wildlife and their habitats across large areas. Although the discipline is young relative to other branches of the life sciences, there is expanding literature supported by a growing community of international researchers asking novel research questions. Despite this popularity in landscape ecology, it is still treated as an exotic, niche area of ecology (no pun intended) at many universities and natural resource agencies. What this means is that amidst unprecedented loss of wildlife habitats, biodiversity, and abundance at continental scales, ideas that could have a meaningful impact on broad-scale ecological issues are not making their way to classrooms at universities and field offices of natural resource agencies. Clearly, a disconnect exists somewhere between the theory, the research, the dissemination, and the application of landscape ecological ideas.
The other editors (Bill Porter, David Williams, and Rose Stewart) and I are uniquely suited to weigh in on the disconnect between landscape ecology and wildlife management. Each of us have straddled the line between theoretical ecologist and field biologist, academic and natural resource professional, policy wonk and intern. These experiences leave us with a passion for using quantitative ecological tools to ask landscape ecological questions, and a compassion for helping natural resource agencies apply this knowledge to manage their species and systems. WML embraces this mindset throughout the book—each section is developed with the wildlife manager in mind—and that is what sets WML apart from other landscape ecology books. We worked hard to curate a set of topics that provide wildlife managers with a one-stop-shop experience. WML scaffolds difficult concepts in landscape ecology on top of existing tools with which managers are familiar, and presents case studies that apply the science in practice. The result is a highly accessible resource to help managers translate landscape ecology to management action at spatial scales that are meaningful to natural resource agencies.
Wildlife Management and Landscapes undoubtedly stands on the shoulders of other landscape ecology books published previously. As I write this blog post, a tattered and annotated copy of Monica Turner’s, Landscape Ecology in Theory and Practice (perhaps the O.G. of landscape ecology textbooks) sits on a nearby bookshelf. Turner’s work, among many others, unleashed a paradigm shift in the way ecologists thought about studying ecology across space. The other editors and I hope that WML provides a similar energy to the wildlife world. We hope this book sparks an interest in landscape ecology and management by graduate students, wildlife managers, decision makers at NGOs, refuge managers, private land biologists, soil conservationists, farm bill biologists, consultants, and the vast array of other wildlife professionals who are in the arena, getting their boots dirty to create habitat and manage wildlife populations.
Chad J. Parent is a research ecologist at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. With William F. Porter, Rosemary A. Stewart, and David M. Williams, he is the co-editor of Wildlife Management and Landscapes: Principles and Applications.