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Landscape ecology as a bridge from ecosystems to human ecology

Wolfgang HABER*

Lehrstuhl für Landschaftsökologie, Technische Universität München (Munich), Weihenstephan, D-85350 Freising, Germany

ABSTRACT

‘Landscape’ as a subject of (terrestrial) ecology can be interpreted: first, as a piece of land composed of different ecosystems; and second, as a holistic entity of aesthetic perception derived from landscape paintings and parks of the 18th and 19th century. Such entities display a characteristic arrangement of ‘landscape elements’ regarded as a whole and taking them apart for specific investigation will break up and virtually destroy it (e.g. a symphony dissociated into single notes). Landscape as a holistic entity satisfies emotional human needs like identification with regions, and explains the attraction of tourists. ‘Entity features’ are land-use and land cover combined with openness and a certain naturalness. A key question is whether you call a piece of the earth’s surface just ‘land’ or ‘landscape’ – and why. Such questions touch the interface between landscape ecology and human ecology. But human ecology must not dismiss landscape functions. The most beautiful landscape will be reduced to a mere picture if it does not also provide basic life-support. Therefore, energy and matter flows and transformations between the ecosystems of a landscape have to be determined along with its climate, geomorphology (relief), soils, hydrology, species and ecosystem diversity. These different approaches, however, may never be combined into a unified whole. There is no ‘superscience’, and incidentally, its complexity would by far exceed human brain capacity. What we can achieve is bridge-building by approximation of selected facts. A conscious spatial arrangement of diversified land-use units (ecotopes) will promote (bio)diversity and may be perceived as an integral landscape pattern. A spatially and temporally differentiated energy input into land-use units will result in a gradient of utilization intensity and allow more species to thrive, again enhancing both diversity and landscape beauty. Modern humans have deliberately chosen artificial surroundings to achieve complete environmental control, even in rural lifestyles. But as far as emotional needs are concerned, this artificiality seems to be neither human nor ecological. Something ‘natural’ is lacking, and landscape in its holistic sense can provide it – be it a landscaped open space in a city, a rural scene, a seashore or a mountain range. Maintaining and managing such ‘naturalness’ requires sound ecological knowledge – not as an aim in itself, but to provide a bridge for humans.

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  • 2013
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