College of LAE faculty forum to explore how landscape structure influence forest ecosystems

November 5, 2013
Northern Sweden

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education will host its second faculty forum of the fall semester, “Fragments: The Fundamental Influence of Landscape Structure on Forest Ecosystems,” on Thursday, Nov. 7, from 5-6:30 p.m. in Lundeen Lecture Hall, 103 Doudna Hall, UW-Platteville. The event is free and open to the public.

Dr. Evan Larson, assistant professor of geography at UW-Platteville, will be presenting and Dr. J. Elmo Rawling III, geography professor at UW-Platteville, will be responding.

Larson's presentation will address how landscape structure influences forest ecosystems, based on research he has conducted for more than a decade, beginning when he was an undergraduate student at Willamette University in Salem, Ore.

As an undergraduate student at Willamette University, he participated in a summer research project that had a deeply formative influence on him. That summer, the research group traveled to and studied a high desert region on the side of a mountain in central Oregon. The region included kipukas – small, isolated patches or fragments of forest and vegetation that occur because of human activity such as clear cutting or because of natural processes such as fire, lava flow or changes in climate. 

Larson and the research team tried to answer this question: once the structure of a forest landscape has been changed by human activities or natural processes, will the forest ecosystem remain the same?

“Answering this question is important because forests give us so many important things,” said Larson. “They provide natural resources for our economy, which has an impact on our livelihoods and culture. They also give us a sense of place, an identity.”

“Forests that in the past were continuous have gone through tremendous changes over the past 70 to 80 years,” continued Larson. “Now, because of widespread clear cutting, development and the continual spread of urban areas, forests are becoming increasingly fragmented at landscape and regional scales. It is difficult to determine how these structural changes will impact how these forests operate because it takes between 100 to 200 years for a forest to mature – that's a long time for changes in the past to be fully realized. A good place to start seeking answers to these questions is to study a location that has been fragmented for a long time, such as the kipukas in central Oregon.”

“By investigating how fragmentation influences forests over long time periods, we may be tuning into some of the universal laws that govern our world,” said Larson. “Many experts have studied island biogeography and found that larger islands contain more species. Can this theory be applied to a forest? Can it be applied to fragmented forests? Can it be applied to the larger biodiversity of regions and the globe?”

Larson will also talk about the time he spent studying, teaching and conducting research on a wilderness reserve in Sundsvall, Sweden, as a Fulbright Scholar during the 2011-12 academic year. 

While Larson's presentation will focus on the geographical and ecological implications of how landscape structures of fragments influence forest ecosystems on the scale of centuries, Rawling's response will focus on how dynamic the world is over broader time scales – thousands to tens of thousands of years – to explore how and where these questions are important or whether change over lifespans may be a moot point.

A 30-minute question and answer period will follow Rawling's response. Refreshments will be served.

Contact: Dr. Evan Larson, department of social sciences, (608) 342- 6139,

Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, (608) 342-6191,


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