The Landscape Ecology Group is concerned with understanding the spatial complexity of the landscape, the processes that create its mosaic of land covers and plant communities, and the temporal dynamics of this mosaic (past and future). The methods used to achieve this end include field mapping, experimental studies in the field and the laboratory (plot and greenhouse experiments), remote sensing and GIS methods, and ecological modelling. There are close links between this group and others in the Environmental Processes cluster, and with other clusters or groups, such as those concerned with Society, Environment and Development and Polar Landscapes. The group applies these methods in a variety of different environments, defined by both type (eg floodplains) and location (eg Crete and the Mediterranean more generally).
The Department has had a long-standing interest in interdisciplinary research into floodplain landscapes, involving Keith Richards and Francine Hughes and a series of EC projects of which the two FLOBAR (Floodplain Biodiversity and Restoration) projects have been the most recent. These projects have examined the reasons for decline in wet floodplain woodland in Europe, associated with river and flow management and the consequential loss of opportunity for regeneration. Restoration of woodland in suitable location is favoured by the biodiversity gain that would result, and the possible gain in floodwater retention on floodplains with high vegetative flow resistance. However, this requires understanding of ecological, hydrological and hydraulic processes, and of the economics and institutional contexts in which these functions of floodplains are valued and exploited.
A key theme is recent and possible future change in landscape ecology. Harriet Allen's research in the Mediterranean is on ecological changes to mediterranean-type shrubland ecosystems, occurring in response to both agricultural intensification and abandonment of farming in marginal/upland areas. Assessing shrubland ecosystem change using remotely sensed imagery is being complemented by high resolution pollen records, and modern pollen surveys aid the interpretation of both recent and longer term records of vegetation change. In addition, Bernard Devereux is concerned with modelling structure (terrain, vegetation cover, drainage and climate) and process (post-fire forest regeneration) in complex Mediterranean landscapes, using remote sensing and GIS methods. Thus there is a strong research focus on understanding the impact of environmental change on Mediterranean vegetation communities. In the UK, Steve Trudgill has been examining the dynamics of land use change and its environmental impacts in the catchments draining to Slapton Ley in Devon, and has experimentally studied (with John Parker, Director of the University Botanic Gardens) the effects of climate change on lawn grasses, investigating how grass species cope with drought conditions.
Methodologically, Bernard Devereux developed Remote Sensing and GIS algorithms (with the former Unit for Landscape Modelling which he directed) to model the spatial complexity of ecosystems and land use patterns in both the UK and the Mediterranean. These algorithms were developed under the British National Space Centre 'CLEVER MAPPING' programme and are currently marketed as part of Laserscan's IGIS product. They have recently been used by NERC's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology as a basis for creating their 'Land Cover 2000' digital map of the UK. Research in the Unit is currently in progress aimed at understanding the relationship between land cover and breeding birds using Land Cover 2000 data and the British Trust for Ornithology's UK database of bird distributions. Research recently completed includes the RESOLUTION E project, also sponsored by the British National Space Centre, which modelled relationships between land use, transport and the environmental impact of exhaust emissions from road traffic.