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.
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.
A computer model called LANDIS addresses the larger spatial and temporal dimensions involved in effective forestry management, whether that means looking at the long-term effects of fire management or at tree harvesting practices. In lieu of an ecological crystal ball, this computer model is becoming a crucial tool that employs current science “to simulate the long-term effects of various management decisions.” With LANDIS, it becomes possible to estimate how frequently a fire needs to occur in order to maintain the forest’s ecological health.
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.
LANDIS, an imprecise acronym that stands for Landscape Disturbance and Succession Model, is co-owned by Hong He and creator David Mladenoff (University of Wisconsin). The model has different components that foster exploration by interest (for example, fire, wind, harvest, insects and disease, fire management, or forest succession), and is free of charge to the public.