Dr. Monica G.Turner
Department of Integrative Biology
University of Wisconsin
430 Lincoln Dr.
Madison, WI 53706
Ecosystem and
Landscape Ecology Lab
Map of Yahara watershed landcover - one landscape in which the lab studies spatial patterns of ecosystem service production

Landscape Sustainability and Ecosystem Services


Monica Turner, Jiangxiao Qiu, Rose Graves, Dan Donato, Pete Blank


Landscape ecology, sustainability, ecosystem services, resilience, synergies, tradeoffs

Research Overview

As a start for thinking about how the unique perspectives of landscape ecology can contribute toward understanding ecosystem services and how land management can enhance or threaten the sustainability of ecosystem services in changing landscapes, Monica Turner and colleagues explored these concepts in forested landscapes (Turner et al. 2012). We addressed two questions about a suite of supporting, regulating and provisioning ecosystem services in each of two well-studied forest landscapes (Greater Yellowstone and the maritime Pacific Northwest) in the western US: (1) How might the provision of ecosystem services change in the future given anticipated trajectories of climate, disturbance regimes, and land use? (2) What is the role of spatial heterogeneity in sustaining future ecosystem services? We determined that future changes in each region are likely to be distinct, but spatial heterogeneity (e.g., the amount and arrangement of surviving forest patches or legacy trees after disturbance) will be important in both landscapes for sustaining forest regeneration, primary production, carbon storage, natural hazard regulation, insect and pathogen regulation, timber production and wildlife habitat. Five general priorities for future research are also highlighted (Turner et al. 2012):

  1. What types and levels of spatial heterogeneity contribute to sustained production of ecosystem services and what types and levels do not?
  2. Where on the landscape do suites of ecosystem services respond similarly or in opposite directions to anticipated changes, and what are the mechanisms behind such synergies and tradeoffs?
  3. What are the implications for resilience and vulnerability of ecosystem services of anticipated trajectories of landscape change?
  4. To what degree can landscape pattern be purposefully managed to enhance the resilience of ecosystem services in the face of changing drivers?
  5. How well will understanding of past landscape dynamics and ecosystem services inform the future?

Several current initiatives in the lab begin to address these questions. In the Yahara Watershed surrounding Madison, Wisconsin, Jiangxiao Qiu is analyzing the spatial patterns of multiple ecosystem services and developing new approaches for understanding synergies and tradeoffs. Research by Pete Blank that focuses on how bioenergy crop plantings may affect grassland birds and other terrestrial wildlife, and explores scenarios for balancing these potentially competing ecosystem services, offers another insight into questions about landscape sustainability. And as part of the ECI Prize in Terrestrial Ecology in 2008, Monica Turner is extending her ideas about landscape sustainability for a book, LESSONS FROM LANDSCAPE ECOLOGY FOR SUSTAINABILITY SCIENCE, which she anticipates completing in 2012.

Selected publications

Turner, M. G. 2010. A landscape perspective on sustainability science. Pages 79-82 in: S. A. Levin and W. C. Clark, editors. Toward a science of sustainability. University Services, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey.

Turner, M. G. 2010. Disturbance and landscape dynamics in a changing world. Ecology 91:2833-2849.

Turner, M. G., D. C. Donato and W. H. Romme. 2012. Consequences of spatial heterogeneity for ecosystem services in changing forest landscapes: priorities for future research. Landscape Ecology DOI 10.1007/s10980-012-8741-4.

Research briefs

Optimizing the benefits of our ecosystems will require holistic landscape management.(pdf)