An underlying theme of our research and teaching is a focus on landscape ecosystems (geographic ecosystems or "geoecosystems") in addition to the organisms that are inseparable from them.  We are interested in why native plants grow where they do, but our focus is always on whole ecosystems.  We emphasize an ecosystem approach rather than a biological approach, in that we consider "ecology" to be "the study of ecosystems", and we study them in the field as discrete, real places on the surface of the Earth.  Plants and other organisms are interesting and useful in summarizing a particular study, but we consider them always in terms of their physical environment - geology, physiography, climate, and soil.  This approach is pervasive in every research project we undertake.  In the words of J. Stan Rowe: "What is important today is to change our understanding of the world, to focus on ecosystems rather than on the individual species and organisms that are part of them"  (Rowe 1989).


We are using this approach to deveop an ecological classification of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw, Michigan.  Understanding and mapping whole ecosystems of the refuge will not only allow us to inventory and predict the forest species of the property, but it will also provide an ecological framework for reforesting and restoring heavily disturbed portions of the property as well.

Other examples of this geographical approach to studying ecosystems in our research include:

  • Understanding that soils, microclimate, and physiography affect the growth of jack pine in northern Lower Michigan, which affect how soon Kirtland's warblers will utilize a stand of trees and for how many years they will return each breeding season;
  • Understanding that the health and persistence of aspen in Colorado depends completely on physical factors such as elevation, slope, and aspect (which shape fire regimes as well as ungulate accessibility to aspen browse and human accessibility and fire suppression);
  • Understanding that emerald ash borer impacts on ash differ by ash species because each species is found on a different site, which determines its density and regeneration success in the wake of EAB;
  • A strict attention to detail in selecting forest stands for a chronosequence, holding as many site factors constant as possible at multiple spatial scales.
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