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Transdisciplinarity in Environmental and Social Sciences

Presenting person: Prof. Dr. John Tenhunen / Prof. Dr. Müller-Mahn, Dept. of Plant Ecology / Social Geography, UBT
Th. 2009-06-18 (16:15-17:45), H6

Contact: Detlef Müller-Mahn, John Tenhunen

A transition in the design and goals of natural resource management requires new competence in those acting as practitioners in agencies with missions in resource planning. Thus, we find a new paradigm in ecosystem management developing internationally that strives to put Man along with his complex behavior back into the ecological system, e.g., developing a transcisciplinary component in environmental science. The call for such a measure was seen with incredible foresight and vision by the outstanding pioneer in conservation biology, Aldo Leopold, who wrote the following in Berlin in 1935:


“One of the anomalies of modern ecology is the creation of two groups, each of which seems barely aware of the existence of the other. One studies the human community, almost as if it were a separate entity, and calls its findings sociology, economics and history. The other studies the plant and animal community and comfortably relegates the hodge-podge of politics to the liberal arts. The inevitable fusion of these two lines of thought will constitute the outstanding advance of the present century.”


Leopold was of course referring to the 20th century, and it is clear that we failed to meet his expectations.

The recent funding of the International Research Training Group “Complex Terrain and Ecological Heterogeneity (TERRECO): Evaluating ecosystem services in production versus water yield and water quality in mountainous landscapes” provides us at the University of Bayreuth with a unique opportunity and initial core support:

  1. to develop a competitive transdisciplinary ecosystem research program focused on water management, clearly a theme that will increase in importance in the next decades; and
  2. to work toward establishing a transdisciplinary component in future environmental studies curricula, oriented to problem solving in the context of global change.

The TERRECO effort will develop capacity to evaluate multiple dimensions of ecosystem performance via simulation modelling, e.g., with respect to water yield, water quality, erosion, agricultural and forest production, carbon balances, trace gas emissions, etc., both for current situations and under future climate conditions. But TERRECO goes beyond this in planned scenario evaluations to consider influences of the economic framework, the regulatory regime, and the attitudes and perceptions of nature (i.e., with respect to resource conservation) on decision-making which determines future land use.


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last modified 2009-06-09