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Biocomplexity, Spatial Scale, and Fragmentation: Implications for Arid and Semi-arid Ecosystems (SCALE)

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Spatial complexity of vegetation plays a central role in the structure and function of temporally variable, arid and semi-arid ecosystems. Complexity results from movement-mediated linking of less complex spatial units by herbivores and humans into spatially extensive, complex systems. But modern human land use and land tenure systems tend to deplete spatial biocomplexity through fragmentation of ecosystems into isolated and simplified units. Ecosystem fragmentation is often justified as a means of economic intensification in the neo-classical framework, but in fact, it costs money to replace the natural capital lost through fragmentation. As a result of fragmentation, many of the world's arid and semi-arid grazed ecosystems are dysfunctional to varying degrees.

The goal of the project is to demonstrate the importance of spatial complexity, the costs of fragmentation, and to identify options for sustainability at sites around the world by linking ecological and socio-economic research, and in the process, create an international network of scientists addressing these issues. The project focuses on 21 sites in nine countries on four continents. The interdisciplinary scientific team includes ecologists, anthropologists, economists, and political scientists.

Proposed research includes case study syntheses, field-based investigations, and model experiments and analyses. Case studies will synthesize information previously collected at project field sites. Field-based investigations will study patterns of ecological complexity, herbivore movements, human land use/land tenure, economic dynamics, and the interactions among them. Model experiments will use ecological simulations, economic model assessments and linked ecological/socio-economic models to investigate both practical and theoretical aspects of complexity and fragmentation.

Successful implementation of the project will promote a higher level of understanding of spatial-temporal distribution of complexity, its importance in grazed systems, why and how complexity is reduced through fragmentation, and what this means for ecosystems and economic activities.

Mongolia Grassland Photo

             Mongolian Grasslands (Photo by Dennis Ojima)


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DEB-0119618. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Click here to visit the other NREL Biocomplexity project web page - Biocomplexity in African Savannas.

Page Last Modified: October 13, 2006
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