Landuse and Landscape Socioecology in the Mediterranean Basin:
a Natural Laboratory for the Study of the Long-Term
Interaction of Human and Natural Systems


Simple landscape model: Polop valley
before and after Holocene erosion
All of modern society depends ultimately on the products of agriculture and animal herding. This agropastoral economy first appeared in the Mediterranean basin in the early Holocene, nearly 10,000 years ago, and represented a dramatic reorganization of human ecology. It involved increasingly intensive efforts by farming peoples to control environmental factors favorable to the life cycle of domestic plants and animals, with a consequent cascade of complexly interlinked effects on regional landscapes and human society.

Agropastoral landuse remains the most significant way in which humans impact natural landscapes, and the recursive social effects of these impacts are important global issues. However, landscape evolution takes place over the course of decades, centuries, and even millennia. Even the loss of a landscape's ability to support a people and their subsistence economy is often the result of longer term changes that are most apparent at the resolution of the prehistoric record. Only by studying this long-term record can we truly begin to appreciate the real consequences of past and present landuse decisions on earth's landscapes and society, and use this understanding to make more informed decisions today.

he longest and best-studied record of the ways in which human activities have transformed the world is found in the Mediterranean Basin, encompassing both the earliest known agricultural landuse and the earliest civilizations to become dependent on these human-managed socioecosystems. Decades of intensive study by archaeologists, geoscientists, and ecologists, has amassed rich and diverse data about human-environmental interaction in this region. This information is integrated with recent advances in geospatial modeling and agent simulation to create a natural laboratory for investigating the long-term social and ecological consequences of alternate landuse practices. In this project, the modeling laboratory is used to study: 1) the effects of growth in agropastoral systems on biodiversity; 2) the changing impacts of landuse intensification and diversification on landscapes, their resilience, and vulnerability to degradation;and 3) the long-term sustainability of human maintained socioecosystems in varying environmental and social contexts. The study focuses on two ecologically diverse regions at opposite ends of the Mediterranean Basin, eastern Spain and the southern Levant in Jordan, that encompass much of the social and natural variability of the entire region.


Geospatial modeling of landscape dynamics

This work will generate significant new knowledge about long-term consequences of alternative landuse practices that can help communities make more responsible and effective decisions about landuse today. It will also generate integrated archaeological and paleoenvironmental datasets, and dynamic landuse-landscape modeling algorithms that will be disseminated via the internet, conferences, and publications for use by researchers addressing other socioecological questions. The research is tightly integrated with an active educational program for undergraduate and graduate students especially geared towards hands on training in the research process, and collaborative transdisciplinary work. This includes a K-12 outreach partnership with the Arizona Geographic Alliance, and collaboration with educators to co-develop and disseminate curricula that enables science learning within the context of core requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation.



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