The fires in Portugal’s neo-Australian landscapes

June 22, 2017

The terrifying and sad images emerging from last Saturday’s fires in central Portugal struck me in their similarity to the 2009 Black Saturday fires around Melbourne where I used to live.  But the similarity is more than the day of the week, the record-high numbers of fatalities, the images of charred cars trapped along the road, and the human tragedy.  The other similarity is the vegetation: a fairly impressive portion of Portugal is covered by “neo-Australian” landscapes of introduced eucalyptus trees, as well as acacias and hakea.

A quick and dirty look at the extent of the fire in comparison shows clearly that the fires spread largely in eucalyptus forests:

Map of location of June 17, 2017 fires (source: ERCC) on left, with fire areas juxtaposed manually on an extract of vegetation map of Portugal (source: Meneses et al. 2017). Yellow is eucalyptus; dark green is maritime pine.

Eucalyptus trees, as well as other elements of Australia’s vegetation, are of course highly fire adapted.  Native Iberian cork oaks and pines are of course also no strangers to fire, but the question that has increasingly been raised in the press is to what extent eucalypts are to blame in the recent tragedy (in English, see articles for instance in Politico, LA Times, NYTimes). Read the rest of this entry »

Announcing new project on forest landscapes in Vietnam (with PhD post)

April 25, 2017

Forest in Vietnam can mean many things. There are the dense, dipterocarp rainforests that have divulged mammal species previously unknown to science, like the saola. There are also the vast plantations of exotic acacias growing wood for industry, as I detailed in a previous blog entry. And these forests have changed rapidly in the past few decades in step with the country’s economy and politics. The country is often seen to have undergone a “forest transition”, whereby a previous history of deforestation transitions to a new phase characterised by forest stability and indeed regrowth (albeit largely with exotic plantations).  In a new research-for-development project (see PhD job ad here), we intend to investigate the exact nature of the forest transition and its feedback into sustainable development for the heavily peopled rural landscapes of Vietnam.

r4d photo - 4

Acacia mangium, forest plantations, and natural rainforest in A Luoi district, Vietnam

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What are the environmental humanities?

March 10, 2017

Among the most potent recent academic buzzwords must figure “The Environmental Humanities”. This bandwagon is clearly attractive: an ever-growing bouquet of new journals, positions, institutes, books, and networks carries this label.[*]

In this blog, I’d like to propose an alternative definition for what the environmental humanities constitute, one that goes a little bit against the standard definition. In short, instead of emphasising meta-discipline, interdisciplinarity, and knowledge domains, my definition emphasises modes of knowledge creation and communication. Let me explain.

The environmental humanities emerged in particular out of history and literature departments (environmental history, eco-criticism), with a number of other contributors from across a diverse spectrum of academia (Nye et al. 2013). Well-known figures like Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold are claimed as predecessors. Definitions of the environmental humanities, in my (perhaps naïve) reading, seem to coalesce around three points: Read the rest of this entry »

Invasive species: interdisciplinarity, ecosystem (dis)services, and aesthetics

February 21, 2017

Announcing a series of new publications on “invasive species”, all from the Socio-ecology of Acacia project in which I participated (funded by SESYNC and two German research institutes). Here’s why they are interesting: Read the rest of this entry »

Political ecology and resilience: competing ‘interdisciplines’

February 10, 2017

The study of environment-society interactions is widely acknowledged to demand inter-disciplinary knowledge production. Yet there are multiple ways of being interdisciplinary. Both “political ecology” and “resilience” (or socio-ecological systems) are research approaches that explicitly claim to be inter- or even post-disciplinary. Read the rest of this entry »

Hervé Rakoto and the farmers of highland Madagascar

February 8, 2017

The tantsaha, or farmers, of highland Madagascar lost one of their moHerve in the fieldst empathetic interlocutors in late 2015: the geographer Hervé Rakoto Ramiarantsoa. In his books and articles, Hervé investigated the lives and landscapes of rural Imerina, Betsileo, and Tanala country from the farmer’s perspectives. His wonder and respect for the farmer’s techniques, their intricate reworkings of canals, soils, and paddy fields, was as strong as a farmer’s polished wood angady spade. Read the rest of this entry »

Field studies in the High Atlas

November 29, 2016

We have just inaugurated a new field trip to Morocco with grand success for our masters program*. The idea is to give our masters students experience in “the field” before they head off for their independent fieldwork for their masters thesis. We sought to expose them to the pleasures and challenges of fieldwork that involves linguistic, cultural, and logistical barriers, and build their “soft skills”. To do so, we brought them to a cluster of villages perched on a mountain side in the High Atlas, and – during 4 days of intensive field surveys, interviews, muddy boots, and mint tea – learn what we could about how the villages manage their water, their waste, their cropfields, their pastures, and the touristic potential of the region.


The villages of Annamer and Aguerd

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