When invasion ecology looks at cities and urban areas

November 10, 2017

The historical roots of urban invasion studies across the rural–rural-wild spectrum. Fig. 1 in Salomon Cavin & Kull 2017. Kindly drawn by Lionel Cavin.

The study of invasive plants and animals has started to pay attention to cities.  In a paper just out, written by my colleague Joëlle Salomon Cavin and me, we document this ‘urban turn’ and ask what its implications are.  Specifically, our paper does a few things. We review how the ecological sciences in general have long had blinders as far as matters urban go, but also the existence of alternative paradigms – notably in 20th century European circles and in diverse ‘urban ecology’ traditions. Then, we look in more detail at how invasion biology has dealt with (or ignored) cities. In doing so, we Read the rest of this entry »

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Using the ‘regime shift’ concept to analyse society-environment change

November 8, 2017

What happens when you take a concept developed to describe lacustrine ecology or fire regimes and apply it to complex social-ecological phenomena involving politics, economics, culture, and more?  What challenges occur when concepts are borrowed from systems ecology or complexity science and applied to situations with people, power, perceptions, contingencies, and feelings?

I’m excited to announce a brand-new paper that addresses exactly these questions (official link; authors preprint PDF).  Published in Geographical Research, the paper does four things: Read the rest of this entry »


Socio-ecological landscapes of Thừa Thiên-Huế province

September 19, 2017

Unrecognizable 20 years ago: Acacia plantations and new road in Nam Đông district, Thừa Thiên-Huế province.

The past week marked the launch of our new, Swiss government funded research project on the “forest transition” in Vietnam, which I’m leading in collaboration with colleagues Trần Nam Thắng and Ngô Trí Dũng of Huế University and Roland Cochard at Unil (see previous blog). The project aims to promote sustainable forest management and resilient rural livelihoods in the rapidly changing forest landscapes of this region.

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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 »