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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Methods for Environmental Management Research at Landscape and Watershed Scales

Authors
item Robertson, G - MICHIGAN STATE UNIV
item Burger, L - MISS. STATE UNIV
item Kling, Catherine - IOWA STATE UNIV
item Lowrance, Robert
item Mulla, David - UNIV. OF MINNESOTA

Submitted to: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation Society
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: May 25, 2007
Publication Date: July 4, 2007
Citation: Robertson, G.P., Burger, L.W., Kling, C.L., Lowrance, R.R., Mulla, D.J. 2007. Methods for Environmental Management Research at Landscape and Watershed Scales. Managing Agricultural Landscapes for Environmental Quality. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation Society. Ankeny, IA. 196 p.

Interpretive Summary: In order to quantify the benefits of Conservation Practices in the Conservation Effects Assessment Project, we need new research methods that allow us to understand the effects of both agriculture and conservation practices at the landscape scale. A landscape is a pattern of ecosystems where the linkages among the ecosystems help to define higher level functions. Many of the service provided by agriculture that go beyond food and fiber production involve landscape level processes - clean air, clean water, biodiversity, wildlife, and visual amenities are some examples. In many cases, these landscape level services are poorly studied, largely due to a lack of methods to study them. New methodologies are needed to go beyond traditional field scale approaches to environmental quality research. In this synthesis, we provide first an overview of traditional field-scale approaches to environmental management and research in agriculture, highlighting both successful examples and their general limitations. Second we describe what we view as the three main challenges for incorporating landscape methodologies into agricultural research. Third, we define and describe what is needed in the way of new tools, approaches, and research to overcome the barriers that presently inhibit a landscape orientation and that could help to address important and otherwise recalcitrant environmental problems associated with agriculture. New methodologies such as sensor networks and integrated biological/physical/social/economic models will be needed. We conclude that new systems research at appropriate geographic and temporal scales can provide the knowledge needed to develop and implement effective policies for delivering the ecological services that agriculture can provide.

Technical Abstract: Agriculture is as much as ever and perhaps more so today a landscape enterprise. And as we move into an era in which ecosystem services from agriculture are tabulated, valued, and judged by society, landscape involvement and management will become ever more important. The majority of the non-commodity services provided by agriculture involve landscape elements and landscape-level processes - clean air, clean water, biodiversity, wildlife, and visual amenities are but a few examples. Why, then are agricultural landscapes understudied with respect to these processes? A variety of reasons have been cited, ranging from paradigm limitations to social and scientific barriers. Underlying most reasons, however, are the methodological: too few studies have employed appropriate methodologies at the appropriate scales to provide the comprehensive knowledge that is needed to effectively manage landscapes for the full suite of services that agricultural landscapes can provide. While we believe this insufficiency is regrettable, we also believe it is remediable, and elaborate on this belief. We provide first an overview of traditional field-scale approaches to environmental management and research in agriculture, highlighting both successful examples and their general limitations. Second we describe what we view as the three main challenges for incorporating landscape methodologies into the present research portfolio: 1) the systems approach is difficult and expensive; 2) regionalization requires extensive sampling and modeling; 3) the inclusion of socioeconomics requires a new research paradigm. Third, we define and describe what is needed in the way of new tools, approaches, and research to overcome the barriers that presently inhibit a landscape orientation and that could help to address important and otherwise recalcitrant environmental problems associated with agriculture. Among these new tools are sensor networks and simulation models. Sensor networks must be matched to management objectives and measurement endpoints. Models must adequately integrate the biophysical and socioeconomic dimensions of important environmental issues. Five specific needs include: scale compatibility; adequate data coverage for model estimation/calibration; complete model coverage of policy relevant choices; treatment of uncertainty within and across models; and development/implementation of optimization algorithms using the models. We conclude that new systems research at appropriate geographic and temporal scale can provide the knowledge needed to develop and implement effective policies for delivering the ecological services that agriculture can provide.

Last Modified: 11/26/2014
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