Update 8/8/04: I'm adding this link to the real definition of neuroecology for all of those who come to this site via search engines looking for information on neuroecology.
New Year's Eve day I was walking through UCLA's sculpture garden when I ran into my first college professor, Hartmut Walter, Professor of Biogeography. Harmut has spent over 30 years trying to answer questions like:
-- How do species persist?
-- How do they avoid extinction?
-- At what point will a species distribution area hasten extinction processes?
-- How can biogeography aid endangered species conservation?
Conserving biological diversity has always been at the heart of his research, as well as a deep interest of mine. During our discussion, Harmut shared his latest realization with me, namely that unless we include human perceptions of the natural ecology into the conservation equations, we will inevitably fail to halt species extinction. Like a true geographer, Harmut is now focused on bringing place back into biogeography.
At its core, geography is the study of place. So while economists study economic theories, economic geographers, like my graduate advisor Allen Scott, analyze economic history to understand the complexity of factors that allow certain economic regions to thrive and others to wilt.
A newly emerging discipline within geography is psychogeography. Psychogeography is concerned with the human perception of place and how it changes over time. In a way, what Hartmut is trying to do is meld psychogeography with biogeography, creating in effect, psycho-biogeography.
As I sat through the neuroesthetics conference last weekend, I was thinking of my conversation with Harmut and realized that there was a further step that needs to be taken in order to bring humans into the conservation solution.
Whereas neuroesthetics uses the latest brain imaging and genetic analysis techniques to understand the neural basis of artistic creativity and achievement, the same techniques could be used to get a more scientific understanding of our perception of nature. And that's when I thought of the term, neuroecology.
Neuroecology uses neurotechnology to understand the neural basis of our perception and appreciation of the natural world.
As I thanked him that day for the rigorous introductory course in biogeography that he put me through, I was grateful for having crossed paths with him when I did. Biogeography solidified my basic understanding of ecological principles.
Update: Photo of Harmut and I this day (taken by my friend Ross)
October 22, 2003
As explorers mapped our planet from 1500-2000, there was a period of several hundred years when the maps that detailed our geographic understanding of the Earth's landscape were wrong.
Take the case of California. Around the year 1500, California made its appearance as a fictional island. In 1622, California was confirmed to be an island. It stayed that way on most maps across all cultures for at least another 100 years. (Here is another map.)
The realization that California is not an island provides a glimpse of how our history has unfolded and our future will be shaped. Thanks Glen.
| Category: Economic Geography
June 20, 2003
What conditions maximize biological diversity?
The Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis suggests that diversity is highest in ecologies that undergo intermediate levels of disturbances. Intermediate levels in terms of the frequency, scale, intensity and type of disturbances. (figure.
Several years ago, I spent some time in Costa Rica trying to find evidence that would support this hypothesis. I was searching of something extra/different in the ecology that might explain the exceptional diversity found in one of the most species rich areas on Earth.
I found what I was looking for: lianas, tropical vines.
Lianas are the longest living plant in the rainforest. They outlive all rainforest trees several times over and can grow thousands of feet long. Their longevity and length means that lianas are often found linking the canopies of several large trees.
The additional connectedness that lianas bring to the rainforest means that when one tree falls, multiple trees follow, creating medium size gaps that average about 50 meters in diameter throughout the forest. At any one time about 10% of the forest is in this new gap state.
These medium size gaps are unique to rainforests that have lianas. These gaps create open islands with new edges and niches for species to invade and inhabit. In this small, but important way, lianas contribute to maximizing species diversity in tropical rainforests.
| Category: Economic Geography