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Human Geography and the "New Ecology": The Prospect and Promise of

Integration

Karl S. Zimmerer

Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 84, No. 1. (Mar., 1994), pp. 108-125.

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Human Ceography and the "New

Ecology": The Prospect and Promise of

Integration

Karl S. Zimmerer

Department of Ceography, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Ecologists are in a period of retrenchment, soul example, Kates 1987; Parsons 1971; C.O. Sauer
searching, 'extraordinary introspection,' . . . This 1967; Simmons 1993; B.L. Turner 1989), the
follows on nearly three decades of heady belief on
the part of some ecologists . . . that communities "new ecology" amplifies these vital geographi-
are structured in an orderly predictable manner, cal traditions. In this regard, the biophysical
and of others that information theory, systems attributes of environmental modification are of
analysis, and mathematical models would' trans- especial interest to the various ecological sub-
form ecology into a 'hard' science. (Robert Mcln-
tosh 1987:321)
fields in human geography-cultural ecology
(Butzer 1989; Kates 1987; Turner 1989), the
cultural ecology of development (Grossman
I think that in this vast empirical stew [social life
and the empirical reality surrounding it], if you'll 1981; 1984; Nietschmann 1973), political ecol-
pardon the expression, where disorder reigns, are ogy (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987; Bryant 1992;
scattered small islands of organization. (Claude Redclift 1987), and kindred approaches such
Levi-Strauss and Didier Eribon 1991:102) as human ecology (Whyte 1986) and adaptive
dynamics ecology (Knapp 1991), among oth-

T
he "new ecology" offers a sort of short- ers (Brookfield 1964; Butzer 1989; Denevan
hand for a significant reorientation that 1983; Ellen 1982; 1988; Entrikin 1980; Gross-
has occurred in the field of biological man 1977; 1981; Kates 1987; Knapp 1987;
ecology (Botkin 1990; Colwell 1984; 1985; 1991;Leighly 1987; Parsons 1971; Porter 1978;
1992; Mclntosh 1987). The "new ecology" ac- Stoddart 1965; B.L. Turner 1989; W hyte 1986;
cents disequilibria, instability, and even chaotic Zimmerer nd.). But if the geographical litera-
fluctuations in biophysical environments, both ture o n ecological relations is ample, it is also
"natural" and human-impacted (for example, remiss for its negligence of the "new ecology's"
Botkin 1990; Mclntosh 1987; 1991; Mooney insights on the dynamics of biophysical envi-
and Godron 1983; Roughgarden et al. 1989; ronments.
Vale 1982; Worster 1990). This emphasis on Our efforts in human geography to date have
the volatility of environmental change tests the scarcely touched ,the profound re-interpreta-
conventional ecological wisdom that depicts tion of biophysical environments that has
nature as tending toward stability or near-con- emerged through the perspectives of the "new
stant balance. The "new ecology" thus chal- ecology."l To be sure the "new ecology" has
lenges the major premises of biological ecol- already inspired rethinking in the realm of hu-
ogy qua systems ecology as practiced during man-environment relations (Denevan 1983;
the 1960s and the 1970s. Whereas systems Knapp 1981; 1987; 1991;Smith 1984; Winter-
ecology regards environments at various scales halder 1980), but human geography's interpre-
as systems tending toward equilibrium and ho- tation of biophysical environments awaits en-
meostasis (Laszlo 1 972; Margalef 1968; E.P. lightenment. Shoring up the ecological founda-
Odum 1969; 1971; H. Odum 1983), the "new tions of human geography will require recon-
ecology" proclaims opposition to the idea of sideration of our assumptions and perspectives
persistent stability in environmental systems. o n biophysical environments. Toward that end,
For geographers who have long been inter- this paper begins with a discussion of major
ested in human modifications of nature (for findings from the "new ecology." The two en-

Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 84(1), 1994, pp 10a125


O Copyright 1994 by Association of Arner~canGeographers
Published by Blackwell Publishers, 238 M a ~ nStreet, Cambridge, MA 02142, and 108 Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 lJF, UK
Human Geography and the "New Ecology" 10

suing sections revise existing ecological con- "new ecology" and human geography-the im-
cepts and reformulate certain ecological postu- portance of history, spatial scale, and subjectiv-
lates that have been deployed by human ge- ity. Both perspectives pay careful attention to
ographers since the 1970s. I examine three of historical (non-cyclical) time; to the function of
these postulates in greater detail: (1) general- spatial scale (scale dependency); and to differ-
ized carrying capacity; (2) area-biodiversity re- ential perceptions of environments and envi-
lations, that is, biological diversity as a function ronmental change. These shared orientations
of geographical area and isolation; and (3) bio- of the "new ecology" and human geography
diversity-stability relations, that is, biological di- point in turn to a conclusion that elaborates
versity confers ecological stability. several integrative research themes that are es-
These ecological postulates derive from dis- pecially pertinent to the problems of environ-
proven assumptions and dubious principles of mental conservation and economic develop-
systems ecology. Each depends on unwar- ment.
ranted, and often unstated, assumptions about Geography's longstanding interest in these
temporal and spatial regularities in biophysical problems (C.O. Sauer 1956) has been renewed
environments. Given these alleged regularities, by the introduction of new ideas and con-
the postulates proffer accounts of such eco- cepts-sustainable development (Redclift
logical features as the distribution and diversity 1987), sustainable resource management
of organisms via intermediate-level processes (Friedmann 1992:119-124), conservation-with-
of "competitive exclusion" and "niche speciali- development (Stocking and Perkin 1992), and
zation." The "new ecology" casts doubt o n the sustainable agriculture for development (Con-
applicability of these intermediate-level pro- way and Barbier 1990). This renewal, I main-
cesses and it proposes reformulations that tain, may be hastened through the integration
promise to strengthen human geography's of the "new ecology's" perspectives into hu-
contribution to current research issues (Butzer man geography. These perspectives call for
1989; Kates 1987; B.L. Turner 1989). flexible environmental management strategies
But the integration of the "new ecology" into that accommodate at once change, risk, com-
human geography will not be seamless. The plexity, and development based on local par-
third section of the paper assesses the obsta- ticipation. Indeed, geographical notions of par-
cles to our efforts. The first of these is the ticipatory development (Bebbington 1991;
decline of predictive capacity and analytical Carney 1991; Friedmann 1992; Nietschmann
certainty (in contrast to systems ecology) and 1991; Porter 1979; Richards 1985; Thrupp
the ensuing erosion in scientific claims on be- 1989; Zimmerer 1994) dovetail nicely with the
half of environmental conservation (Botkin perspectives of the "new ecology" and fill a
1990). The second is the prospect that non- niche in the research agenda on environmental
equilibrium conditions might be construed as conservation and economic development.
justification for the human-induced deteriora-
tion of environments (Worster 1990). Although
each of the difficulties poses real problems, "New Ecology"
neither should preclude human geography's
consideration of the "new ecology," provided, The term "new ecology" has been used
of course, that these perspectives improve our since the 1980s to describe a major theoretical
understanding of biophysical environments. In- shift in the field of biological ecology (Colwell
deed, I will argue that environmental conser- 1984; 1985; 1992). Others prefer more evoca-
vation has much to gain through the adoption tive expressions such as "dynamic ecology,"
, of these perspectives and that the contribu- the "ecology of chaos" (Worster 1990), "dis-
, tions of landscape ecology and agroecology
offer cases in point.
cordant nature" (Botkin 1990), and "ineluctably
contingent nature" (May and Seger 1986). But
Whereas our third section deals with the whatever the term, this new perspective calls
constraints on geography's adoption of "new attention to the instability, disequilibria, and
ecology" principles, section four focuses on chaotic fluctuations that characterize many en-
the conditions that enable integration. Most vironmental systems as it challenges the pri-
important are three perspectives shared by the mordial assumption of systems ecology,
namely that nature tends toward equilibrium wide range of biotic and biophysical land-
and homeostasis (Laszlo 1972; Margalef 1968; scapes. To be sure, geographers have long paid
E.P. Odum 1969; 1971; H. Odum 1983). While attention to natural and human disturbances
the various conceptual orientations of the (Frederic Clements' mechanistic doctrine of
"new ecology" may not yet constitute a theo- cyclical succession notwithstanding, Parsons
retical shift in the sense of a complete replace- 1981; C.O. Sauer 1967; Watt 1947; cf. Cle-
ment of Kuhnian scientific paradigms (Mcln- ments 1 935),3 but empirical and conceptual in-
tosh 1987), they nonetheless acknowledge the quiry accelerated during the 1980s. New inter-
shared direction among discrete perspectives ests have emerged to address how the irregular
o n the ecological properties of biophysical en- temporal variation of ecological processes and
vironments. so-called "site histories" structure the founda-
The emergence of the "new ecology" may tions of environmental systems; how, for ex-
be traced to empirical and theoretical advances ample, organism dispersal establishes impor-
and the rise of new metaphors. Field studies tant time-dependent conditions for ensuing
have been especially important in cases where changes in biophysical environments.
the results could not be reconciled with a sys- The "new ecology" also deploys spatial scale
tems ecology view of nature. Closely-moni- in its redefinition of the ecological processes
tored fluctuations in wildlife populations that that shape biophysical environments (Allen
had been impacted by human management and Hoekstra 1991;Allen and Starr 1982; Baker
and exploitation, for instance, contradicted the 1989; M.G. Turner 1989; Remmert 1991; Vale
predictions of systems ecology (Botkin 1990; 1982). Spatial scale differentiates the function
Botkin and Keller 1982). Economic species and exchange of energy, material, and organ-
such as elephants in East Africa and anchovies isms. "Hierarchy theory" places the scale-de-
off the Peruvian coast exhibited sharp fluctu- pendency of ecological functions at the center
ations in population size that could not be ex- of a comprehensive conceptual framework
plained satisfactorily by equilibrium-based (Allen and Starr 1982). In real environments, of
principles. Theory has also contributed to the course, these spatial and temporal contingen-
disaffection for equilibrium models. Theoretical cies commonly combine. Consider the ap-
constructs drawn from chaos theory (Malan- proach of the "new ecology" with regard to
son et al. 1990; Schaffer 1985) and mathemati- landscapes that contain "disturbance patches,"
cal modelling (May and Seger 1986) chal- that is, non-contiguous areas of disturbed habi-
lenged the analytical basis of much of systems tat. These landscapes pose a fundamental
ecology. And lastly, fresh metaphors, bor- question: do the disturbance patches consti-
rowed in part from computing sciences, have tute a scale-dependent steady state of mosaics
aided in the "new ecology's" reinterpretation (the "shifting-mosaic steady state" described
of nature (Botkin 1990). Parallel computer by Bormann and Likens 1981) or a portion of
processing conveys a metaphor for the condi- systems that are unstable even at the largest
tionalities (or contingencies) of ecological spatial scales (Baker 1989).4 This question, of
processes in a diversely organized natural course, strikes at the heart of our conceptions
world. of time and space.
The "new ecology" also involves a new con- The "new ecology" also broaches the deli-
ception of time. Historical time with its empha- cate issue of "subjectivity." In ecology, subjec-
sis on the irregular periodicity of environmental tivity refers to the differential capacity of non-
variations and ecological functioning has dis- human organisms for adjustment and evolu-
placed the cyclical time of systems ecology. tionary adaptation as these organisms encoun-
Natural disturbances thus occur more fre- ter environmental variation in time and space
quently and over larger areas than previously (Kolasa and Pickett 1991). Insofar as the equi-
thought (Christensen 1989; Connell 1978; librium principles of systems ecology posited
Loucks 1970; Mooney and Godron 1983; Pick- the regularity of environmental variation,
ett et al. 1989; Pickett and White 1985; Vale ecologists had little interest in the subjectivity
1982; Veblen 1985; White 1979).' Distur- of non-human organisms. "New ecology's"
bances such as fire, wind, drought, pest out- emphasis on markedly uneven environments,
breaks, disease epidemics, volcanic eruptions, in contrast, vigorously renews inquiry into the
and landslides take place relentlessly across a behavioral and biological capacities of organ-
Human Geography and the "New Ecology" 11

isms. The "new ecology" thus turns toward specific, non-overlapping habitats and thus em
evolutionary and organismal biology and away body unique ecological roles. The governing
from ahistorical systems ecology; toward indi- role of competitive exclusion is founded, how-
vidual organisms, species, and populations (or ever, on unwarranted assumptions of temporal
direct linkages, such as in symbiotic systems) and spatial homogeneity. Given nonequilibri-
and away from undifferentiated ecosystems um conditions, the "new ecology" has proven
(Colwell 1985; 1992; Futuyma 1979). convincingly that the principle of competitive
The consolidation of "new ecology" per- exclusion is limited in its application (Allen and
spectives in biological ecology and biogeogra- Starr 1982; Connell1978; Forman and Godron
phy has not been uneventful. Critics have at- 1986; Kolasa and Pickett 1991; Pickett and
tacked the "new ecology's" theoretical frame- White 1985; Schaffer 1985; White 1979).
work and the implications of that framework The assumptions of systems ecology-the
for research design. The first criticism charges pervasiveness of competitive exclusion, niche
that the pluralism and the contingency of the specialization, and environmental homogene-
"new ecology" is atheoretical at worst and a ity-nonetheless endure in the various ecologi-
dangerous deviation from unified models of cal postulates that are applied by human geog-
explanation at best (Mclntosh 1987). If, runs raphers, and it is to these that I now turn.
the latter charge, all practitioners of biological
ecology and biogeography were to adopt the
"new ecology," then they forsake the compel-
ling prospect of a unified ecology. The second
Ecological Concepts: Old
criticism of the "new ecology" declares that all Orientations and New
of the emphasis o n contingency and complex-
ity discourages the investigation of larger com- Ecological concepts in human geography
plex research problems in favor of smaller and have been used to interpret two types of rela-
more tractable ones (May 1984). Few generali- tions between organisms and the environment.
zations, they argue, will issue forth from the The first addresses human relations to bio-
"new ecology." What these criticisms fail to do, physical environments; the second, the nature
however, is to attack forthrightly the truth- of these biophysical en~ironments.~ In the case
claims of the "new ecology." of human-environment relations, the ideas of
Conversely, the "new ecology" has trench- "adjustment" and "adaptation" have been
antly criticized the assumptions and principles widespread since Harlan Barrows declared
of systems ecology. Predicated on the merger "man's adjustment to the environment" as the
of the biological ecosystem concept (Tansley basis for a geographical human ecology (Bar-
1935) and systems theory (Stoddart 1965), sys- rows 1923). Pioneered in the early twentieth
tems ecology has tended to view nature in century in the Department of Geography at the
terms of mechanical regularity. These assump- University of Chicago (Martin 1 987; see also
tions of temporal and spatial homogeneity, as Goodland 1975; Worster 1977; White 1945),
the "new ecology" points out, are rarely the ecological concept of organismal adjust-
satisfied (Allen and Starr 1982; Connell 1978; ment served as tlie foundation for subsequent
Forman and Godron 1986; Kolasa and Pickett interpretations of human behavior in the natu-
1991; Pickett and White 1985; Schaffer 1985; ral-hazards tradition (Burton, Kates, and White
White 1979). Accordingly, the numerous prin- 1968; 1978; Burton and Hewitt 1974; Kates
ciples of systems ecology that are based on the 1971; White 1974; Whyte 1986). In human ge-
assumption of environmental homogeneity re- ography's version of systems ecology, the no-
quire reexamination? Consider the erroneous tion of adaptation or "adaptedness" considered
principle that alleges the prevalence of com- human practices and, in some cases, beliefs as
petitive exclusion among organisms (E.P. ecosystem functions (Nietschmann 1973:l-10;
Odum 1971), a function that presumably or- see also Rappaport 1968:l-7).' In cultural ecol-
ders the distribution and diversity of organisms. ogy, trajectories of human adaptation, some-
Systems ecologists hold that pervasive com- times labelled as "coping behaviors," served as
petitive exclusion is responsible for the evolu- the basis for understanding adaptive dynamics
tionary process of niche specialization, in (Bennett 1976; Denevan 1983; Knapp 1991;
which diverse organisms evolve adaptations to Richards 1985; Waddell 1975; 1977).
112 Z i m merer

Explanations of human behavior based pri- exists in equilibrium with a certain population
marily, or entirely, on ecological concepts of of organisms. First established in laboratory ex-
adjustment and adaptation invited, however, periments with cultured microorganisms dur-
theoretical and historical c r i t i q ~ eApplication
.~ ing the nineteenth century, this postulate has
of simple adjustment concepts, for instance, been widely applied, discussed, and criticized
frequently overlooked the roles of ethnicity in human geography (Bernard 1985; Bernard
and power in shaping human behavior (Hewitt et al. 1989; Brush and Turner 1987; Campbell
1983; Love 1983; Orlove 1980; Waddell 1977; 1986; Denevan 1987; Redclift 1987; Simmons
Watts 1983b; W hyte 1986; Wolf 1972; 1981; Street 1969; B.L. Turner 1983:22-26).
1982:ix-x). Similarly, the initial concept of ad- Human geography's applications are of two
aptation favored the continuity of homeostasis sorts: human carrying capacity and animal
over the dynamics of change. In this fashion, carrying capacity. The two applications often
adaptation became essentially teleological, intertwine, of course, because human popula-
change could not be explained, and the whole tions frequently depend on game and live-
concept was bereft of historical meaning (Ellen stock. Although human geographers have
1982:236-251; Friedman 1974; Hames and critically assessed the postulate of generalized
Vickers 1983; Knapp 19873 29-1 32; Orlove carrying capacity for human populations
1980; Watts 1983a). Concepts of adaptation in (Denevan 1987; Street 1969; see Brush 1977
human-environment relations thus require re- for the cultural ecology critique of an anthro-
formulation, and a handful of human geogra- pologist), they have not paid similar attention
phers have begun that task by acknowledging to the analogous postulate for animal groups,
the importance of ethnicity and social and po- and it is here that the "new ecology" perspec-
litical power (Denevan 1983; Knapp 1991). tive may be helpful.
But if human geographers have begun to re- The "new ecology" points out two problems
think human-environment relations, they have with the postulate of generalized carrying ca-
made less progress in their reconsideration of pacity as applied to animal population^.^ First,
the nature of biophysical environments. And it the postulate typically assumes a specific and
is on that score that "new ecology" perspec- regular pattern of demographic growth. As de-
tives offer some much-needed assistance. Our rived from the nineteenth-century laboratory
rethinking begins with three conventional eco- experiments mentioned above, growth is de-
logical postulates: (1) the calculation of carrying scribed by an S-shaped curve (sigmoid) that
capacity based on data at coarse spatial and levels off at an upper asymptote (E.P. Odum
temporal scales (generalized carrying capacity 1971:183-195; Whittaker 1975:14-20). This
postulate); (2) the relationship between the upper value, typically designated K, is taken to
spatial characteristics of environments and the measure the generalized carrying capacity. In
diversity of non-human organisms (the area- wildlife ecology and rangeland management,
biodiversity postulate); and (3) the relationship where the postulate of generalized carrying ca-
between the temporal characteristics of envi- pacity has been used most extensively, popu-
ronments and the diversity of non-human or- lation numbers are assumed to fluctuate regu-
ganisms (the stability-biodiversity postulate). In larly around the K value. These assumptions of
each case, these postulates assume temporal regularity do not correspond to biophysical re-
and spatial homogeneity and the pervasiveness ality, however (Botkin 1990; Botkin and Keller
of niche specialization and competitive exclu- 1982). The empirical evidence demonstrates
sion. These, of course, are the assumptions of instead a remarkable lack of temporal homo-
systems ecology. That they are flawed is dawn- geneity in biophysical environments owing to
ing upon geography and related fields and that the prevalence of unpredictable ecological dis-
realization is drawing them toward the revi- turbances such as drought. The assumption of
sionist insights of the "new ecology." a "continuing steady-state basis" embedded in
the definition of carrying capacity (Whittaker
1975:17) is simply unwarranted.
Generalized Carrying Capacity The second problem with the postulate of
generalized carrying capacity is the assumption
The postulate of generalized carrying capac- of the spatial homogeneity of environments,
ity holds that a given biophysical environment that is, environmental differences are either in-
Human Geography and the "New Ecology" 11 3

significant or regular in their occurrence. Note Nietschmann 1992; Hecht and Cockburn
how the assumptions of spatial homogeneity 1990; Herlihy 1989; 1990; Nietschmann 1991;
and temporal homogeneity are related. By as- Redclift 1987; Stevens 1993) and for anthro-
suming regularity in temporal variation, spatial pologists and scholars in environmental studies
evenness may be posited. These assumptions (Batisse 1982; Chapin 1992; Clay 1985). Their
are in turn embedded in calculations of live- interest in biodiversity converges on the nu-
stock carrying capacity, as evidenced by stud- merous biosphere reserves that are inhabited
ies of East African rangelands (Bernard 1985; by indigenous and peasant peoples with terri-
Bernard et al. 1989; Campbell 1986). While torial rights over their reserve areas ("parks
some of these studies have acknowledged that with people"). Research on biosphere reserves
significant environmental variations are ig- (established or proposed) in the Central Ameri-
nored in calculating livestock carrying capacity can countries bf Panama, Costa Rica, Nicara-
(Bernard 1985:69; Campbell 1986:50-51), re- gua, and Honduras and'elsewhere seeks to
cent studies demonstrate that the effects are promote designs and plans that effectively
often so substantial that they greatly alter car- conserve biodiversity while protecting the ter-
rying capacity estimates. Within a small area ritorial sovereignty of local inhabitants.
(260 km2) in Burkina Faso, for example, forage It comes as n o surprise that the designers of
yields among environmental patches differ by biosphere reserves have sought biological
a factor of more than twenty-five (De Leeuw guidelines, nor that they have found these in
and Tothill 1990:7-8). the literature of applied island biogeography
Thus, the postulate of generalized carrying (Batisse 1982; Clay 1985; for major statements
capacity must be reformulated in order to ac- on applied island biogeography, see Diamond
count for the temporal and spatial heterogene- 1975 and Miller 1978). This literature asserts
ity of environments. And in that reformulation, that biodiversity is a direct function of area ("is-
the "new ecology" offers some guidance. O n land size") and of isolation with respect to simi-
the outset, we must recognize the important lar habitats (the area-biodiversity postulate).
roles of temporal disturbance and spatial vari- When this postulate is applied to biosphere
ation in environments. In the case of livestock reserves, area becomes the key predictor of
carrying capacity, we begin by delimiting the biodiversity: the larger the area, the better. The
spatial unevenness of crucial resources (food, area-biodiversity postulate also implies certain
water, shelter) that constrain, singularly or to- recommendations o n reserve shape. If the bio-
gether, livestock numbers. Recent studies in logical diversity of reserves diminishes, ceteris
Zimbabwe and South Africa demonstrate the parabis, with exposure to boundary or "edge"
virtues of such an approach (Abel and Blaikie habitats, then circular reserves are preferable
1990; De Leeuw and Tothill 1990; Scoones to other sha~es(Diamond 1975). Indeed, sev-
1989). In Zimbabwe, for example, livestock eral studies present diagrammatic models of
carrying capacity depends on the spatial distri- circular reserves and one of these describes
bution of "key resources" (e.g., drainage lines, the circular unit as "a typical biosphere re-
river banks, contour ridges) that provide cru- serve" (Redclift 1987:138; see also Batisse
cial forage during the dry season. Assessing the 1982; Clay 1985).
spatial and temporal variations in these "key But in most cases, area and isolation offer
resource" sites significantly improves our esti- poor estimates of the extent of biodiversity,
mates of livestock carrying capacity. and the poverty of these estimates can be
traced back to the unwarranted assumptions of
applied island biogeography and systems ecol-
Area-Biodiversity Relations ogy. They begin by assuming the pervasive-
ness of competitive exclusion and niche spe-
A second postulate of systems ecology-the cialization and the regularity of environmental
claim of a direct association between area and conditions (spatial andtemporal homogeneity).
biodiversity-is equally seductive for human Given these assumptions, it follows that area
geographers who are interested in environ- together with isolation (a proxy used to deter-
mental conservation and, more particularly, in mine colonization rates) constitute the sole pa-
the roles of indigenous and peasant peoples in rameters for determining biodiversity. he
the conservation of biodiversity (Girot and problem is that environmental conditions are
114 Zimme rer
I

not invariantly regular in time and space, and in the upper Orinoco and nearby Amazon ba-
that fact invalidates the use of homogeneity- sins (Roosevelt 1980).
based ecological principles in the planning of Misgivings about the biodiversity-stability
optimal reserve size and shape. The "new postulate date back at least to the late 1970s
ecology," by contrast, offers a number of prin- (Connell 1978; Goudie 1981:280-283; May
ciples that are more appropriate for reserve and Seger 1986; Pimm 1984). The "new ecol-
design (Forman and Godron 1986; Forman ogy" challenges the postulate's underlying as-
1990). sumptions, namely that stable biophysical en-
"New ecology" highlights environmental vironments are dominated by competitive
complexity; it acknowledges the role of a vari- exclusion and niche specialization and that
ety of factors-regional biogeography, environ- these, in turn, are responsible for biological
mental heterogeneity, and differential migration diversity. It also challenges the equally errone-
capacities among organisms-in shaping biodi- ous reasoning that regards the presence of bio-
versity; and it insists that designers of bio- diversity as evidence of ecological specializa-
sphere reserves accommodate these factors. tion and the stable temporal conditions that
Clearly, recommendations of circular-reserve would have permitted it. The "new ecology,"
designs based solely on area and isolation pa- in contrast, offers an alternative and more nu-
rameters are unwarranted. But the contribution anced view of the relations between biodiver-
of the "new ecology" extends well beyond pa- sity and the temporal attributes of environ-
rochial notions of reserve design to a full- ments. Natural ecological disturbance in this
blown critique of applied island biogeography. view is a determinant that in many cases en-
A case in point is recent research o n the impact hances biological variety (Connell 1978; Chris-
of fragmented landscape patches on biodiver- tensen 1989; White 1979). Drawing o n "new
sity (Forman 1990). In addition to the parame- ecology" concepts, recent research in bio-
ters of size and isolation, this research consid- geography has shown how ecological distur-
ers landscape configuration-the connection bance may underlay biodiversity patterns
and juxtaposition of patches, for example. The (Beatty 1991; Vale 1988; Veblen 1985).
results are providing useful insights for the de- A corollary of the biodiversity-stability postu-
sign of biosphere reserves in the Caribbean late, and one that has been especially common
lowlands of Central America. In eastern Hon- in human geography, is the assumption that
duras and to the south in eastern Nicaragua, biodiversity reflects "adapted" niche speciali-
for example, a serpentine-like series of habitat zation of agricultural plants. Geographers have
patches has been proposed as the basis for the deployed this assumption in their interpreta-
Tawahka Reserve inhabited by the indigenous tions of biodiversity (either species diversity or
Tawahka Sumu (Herlihy 1990:32). cultivar diversity) in the cropping systems of
peasant and indigenous farmers (Knapp
1991:11; B.L. Turner 1983:lll; see also related
Biodiversity-Stability Relations work in cultural ecology by anthropologists, for
example Brush and Guillet 1985:24; Webster
Systems ecologists assume that the relations 1973:ll 9).1 In a review of crop diversity in the
of biological diversity and temporal stability are Central Andes of South America, Brush and
inextricable and determinate (Laszlo 1972; Guillet (1985:24) assume that "selection [of
Margalef 1968; H. Odum 1983). In human ge- crop types] matches agronomic qualities to mi-
ography, Harris's interpretation of agricultural croenvironmental conditions." Their assump-
species diversity among the Yanamamo people tion that specialized environmental niches are
("Waika") in the upper Orinoco rain forest of occupied -by a specific suite of diverse crop
southern Venezuela illustrates the dangers in types seems unwarranted, however, in light of
applying the biodiversity-stability postulate "new ecology" findings. Niche specialization is
(Harris 1971). Harris assumed that less diverse not somehow immutable and given; its prop-
fields containing maize were more recent in erties must be demonstrated rather than as-
origin and less stable than more diverse swid- sumed.
den plots (Harris 1971:481-482). But Harris's Recent research in human geography has
supposition has been countered by evidence spawned a reinterpretation of the role of the
documenting the antiquity of maize cultivation environment in the distribution of agricultural
Human Geography a~ n the
d "New Ecology" 115

biodiversity (Zimmerer 1991a; 1991b; for ear- monplace, human-induced degradation might
lier work o n this topic in human geography, be justified in the name of science by interests
see Chang 1977; Clawson 1985; Gade 1975; opposed to environmental conservation.
C.O. Sauer 1952). These studies of the unri- These difficulties are cause for concern, but
valled diversity of potatoes in the Andes moun- they do not in themselves vitiate the integra-
tains address the extent to which distribution tion of the "new ecology's" perspectives on
of crop diversity reflects ecological specializa- biophysical environments and human geogra-
tion to environments. A test of cultural ecol- phy. M y contention gains point when we take
ogy's hypothesis that distribution patterns of a closer look at successful applications of the
Andean potatoes are primarily or exclusively "new ecology" in research fields descended,
an adaptive function of elevation-related mi- in part, from geography.
croenvironments (Brush and Guillet 1985:24; The perception that the predictive capacity
Webster 1973:119) reveals a paucity of finely- of the "new ecology" is less than could be
tuned adaptations to microenvironments (Zim- attained under the assumption of homeostatic
merer 1991a; 1991b). More critical in explain- environmental systems (Mclntosh 1987) is nul-
ing the distribution of agricultural biodiversity lified by a series of qualifications. First, many of
is the role of dispersal ("migration" to bio- the ecological processes highlighted in "new
geographers and ecologists). These findings, ecology" are partially determinate (rather than
oddly enough, are consistent with the newer stochastic) and thus prediction remains feasi-
perspectives of the "new ecology" (Botkin ble. Even certain chaotic processes can be pre-
1990; Forman and Godron 1986) and the older dicted within ranges of certainty (Hastings and
ones of a more traditional biogeography (J.D. Powell 1992; Malanson et al. 1990). Second,
Sauer 1988). many of the major processes of environmental
change that are important to ecological human
geography (soil erosion, for example) are com-
Integrating "New Ecology'' and posed primarily of determinate processes. And
third, the ecological predictions of the "new
Human Ceograp hy: Difficulties ecology," based as they are on actual environ-
and Examples mental conditions, are more realistic than the
high degree of certainty proclaimed by equi-
Integrating the "new ecology's" interpreta- librium-based ecological models. The hubris of
tion of nature into human geography will not unwarranted certainty, it turns out, has been
be easy. Among the many obstacles to integra- responsible for numerous cases of environ-
tion, two are particularly notable for their po- mental mismanagement (Botkin 1990:15-25,
tential to mitigate contributions on environ- 75-89; Botkin and Keller 1982:73-79).
mental conservation. First, the "new ecology" Concern that the concepts of the "new ecol-
offers modest predictions by comparison to ogy" will subvert environmental conservation
the general, or "global," predictions of systems is predicated o n the fact that ecology, like other
ecology. The latter's predictive capacity is forms of knowledge, i s socially constructed
based o n the assumption that environments (Haraway 1988; Harding 1987; 1991; Kloppen-
tend toward equilibrium and that the steady- burg 1991; Merchant 1980; Worster 1977;
state (the equilibrium state or states) provides 1990). Because ecology occupies a unique and
a benchmark for assessing human impacts privileged place in the scientific interpretation
(Redclift 1987:18). The predictive capacity of of biophysical environments, it might em-
the "new ecology" is weaker, by contrast, ow- power certain social interests and groups at the
ing to the intervention of natural disturbances expense of others and of nature as well. These
and non-equilibrium conditions in many envi- critics of scientific knowledge caution that in-
ronments. All of which makes the estab- terpretations of nature arising from the "new
lishment of guidelines for environmental con- ecology'' could justify environmental deteriora-
servation more problematic. A second obstacle tion by humans generally and by certain social
to integration is that the "new ecology" might interests in particular. A scientific ecology that
provide an unintended apologia for environ- presupposes the absence of long-term equili-
mental degradation (Worster 1990). To the ex- bria and the prevalence of disturbances, it
tent that environmental disturbances are com- might be suspected, may also be responding
Z i m m erer

to bureaucratic realities which often require magnitude and spatial patterning of diversity
arguments that are scientifically credible. (Forman 1990; M.G. Turner 1989).
Whether the ascent of the "new ecology" dur- Contrary to the fears of some, the adoption
ing the 1970s and the 1980s has legitimated of "new ecology" concepts by landscape
human-induced environmental deterioration ecologists has not resulted in the legitimation
has not yet been examined. But in any event, of environmental deterioration. In fact, re-
the dangers of the legitimation of environ- search o n topics such as disturbance and spa-
mental damage wrought by humans will have tial fragmentation has been quite explicit about
less to do with the ideas of the "new ecology" distinguishing their effects in natural and hu-
and more to do with their manipulation in plan- man-modified ecological systems (Forman and
ning and policy-making processes. Godron 1986; Mooney and Godron 1983;
O n this point, consider the generally positive Whitney 1987; for related work in geography,
experiences of landscape ecology and see Baker 1992; Vale 1982; 1988). And these
agroecology (Altieri 1983; 1987; Altieri and distinctions offer crucial insights for environ-
Hecht 1990; Forman and Godron 1986; Gliess- mental conservation. Many human-induced
man 1990a; M.G. Turner 1989; Naveh and Lie- ecological disturbances, for instance, differ
berman 1984). Landscape ecology and agro- from natural ones in frequency, magnitude,
ecology have integrated "new ecology" con- and degree. Comparisons between natural and
cepts while continuing to offer useful contribu- human disturbances also raise far-reaching re-
tions on environmental conservation. Neither search questions for environmental conserva-
has justified environmental damage by hu- tion (Botkin 1990:153-167; Forman and Go-
mans. Although both fields depended at one dron 1986:9-10, 117-11 9; see also Vale 1988).
time on systems ecology frameworks, each has One of these is how human impacts can be
rejected systems ecology assumptions of tem- brought to resemble natural regimes of distur-
poral and spatial homogeneity in favor of "new bance. Another is whether disturbance-related
ecology" perspectives. Integration has not pro- concepts such as ecological resilience and sen-
vided a scientific rationale for environmental sitivity can be sufficiently refined to offer useful
mismanagement, but it has ensured the utility insights for conservation planning.
and viability of landscape ecology and agro- Agroecology has also benefitted from an in-
ecology. fusion of ideas from the "new ecology." This
Recent inquiry in landscape ecology empha- ecological approach to the study of agriculture
sizes three main themes: landscape structure, (Altieri 1983; 1987; Cox and Atkins 1979;
landscape function, and landscape change Gliessman 1990b) has longstanding ties with
(Forman and Godron 1986; M.G. Turner 1989; human geography via the study of the farm
Naveh and Lieberman 1984). These themes practices of peasant and indigenous cultivators
trace their origins to landscape studies in ge- (Klee 1980; Hecht 1987; B.L. Turner 1989). At
ography (Risser et al. 1984; Troll 1939; 1966; one time, however, agroecology drew heavily
1988). At a later date, the field superimposed upon the ecosystem models of systems ecol-
various principles of systems ecology (Naveh ogy (Conway 1986; Loucks 1977; Lowrance
and Lieberman 1984:26-65). But since the mid- et al. 1984; E.P. O d u m 1984). Indeed, the di-
1980s, studies in landscape ecology have versity-stability postulate and the assumption of
benefitted from the infusion of conceptual closed systems were embedded in agroecol-
rigor, theoretical sophistication, and topical ogy until the mid-1980s. Thereafter, however,
breadth via the "new ecology." Concurrently, the conceptual outlook shifted significantly in
landscape ecologists have examined topics favor of "new ecology" perspectives. The
such as the nature of ecological disturbance, closed ecosystems assumed by systems ecol-
spatial fragmentation, and biodiversity through ogy were displaced by ecological systems
the methodological and conceptual inclusion open to external, as well as internal, exchanges
of landscape features in addition to area and of materials, energy, and organisms (Altieri
isolation (Forman and Godron 1986). With re- 1987; Gliessman 1990b; Knapp 1987:129-
spect to biodiversity, recent research in land- 132);'
scape ecology has elucidated the roles of en- But agroecology's integration of the "new
vironmental heterogeneity, landscape pattern, ecology" has not undermined concerns about
and landscape shape as determinants of the environmental conservation. Research on eco-
Human Geography a~ n tdhe "New Ecology" 117

logical structure and functions of intercropping share three environmental orientations-the


offers a case in point (Altieri and Hecht 1990; importance of time (history), spatial scale, and
Gliessman 1990a; Letourneau 1990; Vander- subjectivity.
meer 1988; Vandermeer and Schultz 1990). At In the case of temporality, historical (non-cy-
first, agroecology qua systems ecology de- clical) time has acquired renewed importance
ployed the diversity-stability postulate as the in the geography df human-environment rela-
ecological modus operandi for intercropping tions. Disturbances once dismissed as mere
(Altieri 1983). Recent work in agroecology, shocks for an equilibrating ecosystem are now
however, demonstrates that the relationship imbued with the potential of irreversibility.
between biodiversity and temporal stability i s I Such an orientation is especially useful for
not invariant. Their relations are possible rather analysis of environmental modifications that
than necessary. Consequently, agroecological are molded, as often as not, by contingent
research has taken a new turn as it investigates rather than deterministic circumstances (Blaikie
the parameters that ensure (or at least pro- and Brookfield 1987; B.L. Turner 1990). Even
mote) biodiversity and stability-parameters current environmental modifications are con-
such as the time-based dynamics of organismal tingent on precedent historical processes. And
populations (Gliessman 1990b; Letourneau when assessments of environmental modifica-
1990; Vandermeer and Schultz 1990). tion and conservation omit historical inquiry,
The examples of landscape ecology and they run the risk of oversights as serious as the
agroecology suggest that the concepts of the myopic accounts of deforestation in the moun-
"new ecology" can be effectively integrated tains of Nepal (Blaikie and Brookfield 1987; lves
into human geography without imperiling and Messerli 1989) or of American environ-
either scientific usefulness or conservationist mental history (Cronon 1983; Worster
objectives. Indeed, the prospects for rap- 1988:293). In these cases, the history of na-
prochement may be even better in human ge- ture's complexity clearly matters insofar as it
ography since our sub-fields dealing with hu- embraces political economy and human atti-
man-environment relations already incorpo- tudes, values, and beliefs.
rate perspectives that parallel the "new ecol- Refinements in the concept of spatial scale
ogy." have also helped to clarify human-environment
relations. Recent research on multiple spatial
scales (Butzer 1990; Meyer et al. 1992; Kates
1987; Turner et al. 1990) is redressing the cri-
"New Ecology" and Human
tique that ecological human geography focuses
Geography: Similar Orientations
too narrowly on the microscale decisions of
local inhabitants at the expense of their so-
In pointing out the resemblances between I cial, economic, and po~itida~ relations within
human geography's analysis of human-envi- broader contexts. Recent studies have high-
ronment relations and the "new ecology," I do lighted a medley of spatial scales involving
not wish to imply an exclusively ecological in- communities, regions, states, and world sys-
terpretation of human behavior or society. In- tems (Blaikie 1985; Kates 1987; lves and
deed, one of the virtues of recent work in Messerli 1989; Lewis 1992; Meyer et al. 1992;
human geography is the use of different epis- Schmink and Wood 1987; Sheridan 1988;
temologies for the examination of human be- Watts 1983a). The attention to multiple scales
havior and social organization (related to hu- is now de rigeur; it is more explicit, more ex-
man-environment relations), on the one hand, pected, and more expounded than heretofore.
and biophysical environments, on the other Ecological human geography thus interrogates
(Blaikie 1985; Blaikie and Brookfield 1987; B.L. the interconnections between local and extra-
Turner 1 990).12While the blend of these epis- local spatial scales entrained in the processes
temologies is not always smooth, they share of environmental modification.
nonetheless Toffler's opinion that "science and And lastly, human geographers are applying
humanity [are] back in-a world in which ceteris concepts of subjectivity to human beings as
parabis is a myth" (Toffler 1984:xv). In a world well as to non-human organisms. Their mean-
in which variation matters greatly, ecological ings differ, however. In the "new ecology," sub-
human geography and the "new ecology" jectivity refers to the unequal capacities of or-
ganisms as they respond to environmental het- erogeneous conditions in time and space for
erogeneity. In human geography, subjectivity environmental management. Change, risk, and
refers to the self-conscious awareness of hu- uncertainty emerge as major considerations for
mans. These differences notwithstanding, the effective environmental management (Botkin
subjectivities of the "new ecology" and human 1990; Forman 1990). The effective manage-
geography appear to be broadly similar. In- ment of change must incorporate regimes of
deed, when human geographers declare that natural disturbance and compare these with
individuals and social groups are characterized the effects of human activities. The effective
by different capacities to respond to environ- management of risk involves assessments of
mental modification (Bryant 1992), we are on the relative riskiness of various conservation
the edges of analogue. These differential ca- options and of the advantages of flexibility
pacities often arise, of course, from unequal whereby action plans may be altered in order
access to material resources and from diver- to minimize possible environmental degra-
gent attitudes, values, and beliefs (ideology) dation. Managing for uncertainty includes
(Blaikie 1985; Blaikie and Brookfield 1987; Bry- evaluating the limits within which natural pro-
ant 1992; Watts 1983a). cesses and human interventions are likely to
produce a certain result (as opposed to assert-
ing the certainty of single values and ironclad
Conclusion: Implications and outcomes).
These conservation goals (management for
Future Research Involving the
change, risk, and uncertainty), albeit inspired
Integration of "New Ecology" by the "new ecology," hold special promise for
into Human Geography human geographers interested in economic
development and social change and, more
The "new ecology" is rife with implications particularly, in the motif of economic develop-
for human geography and other disciplines in ment based on the active participation of local
the social sciences and humanities that are people (on "local participatory development"
concerned with biophysical environments. see Bebbington 1991; Carney 1991; Friedmann
Human geography seems especially well-posi- 1992; Herlihy 1989; Nietschmann 1991; Porter
tioned for probing the multi-faceted ideas of 1979; Richards 1985; Thrupp 1989; Zimmerer
the "new ecology." Particularly promising is the 1994). Having recognized the limitations of
application of the "new ecology" to the bur- top-down development models, human geog-
geoning study of environmental conservation raphers are examining anew the socioeco-
and economic development (sometimes re- nomic empowerment of local people through
ferred to as "conservation-with-development") democratic participation, decentralized deci-
(Adams 1990; Bryant 1992; Conway and Bar- sion-making,- and economic growth based on
bier 1990; Emel and Peet 1989; Friedmann local resources, skills, and knowledge. And
1992:119-124; Redclift 1987; Schmink and when local participatory development is united
Wood 1987; Sheridan 1988; Stocking and Per- with environmental conservation under the
kin 1992). Ecological frameworks are prereq- management gujdelines of the "new ecology,"
uisite for understanding the role of resources local inhabitants are, in many cases, most able
in "conservation-with-development" study to identify the spatial and temporal heteroge-
(Anderson 1981; Botkin and Keller 1982; neities of their biophysical environments and
Holling 1973; 1978; Park 1980; B.L. Turner to help plan accordingly.
1990), and the "new ecology" can help in fur- The convergence of local participatory de-
nishing this framework as it advances human velopment and the "new ecology" can prove
geography's explanatory capacity, its scientific fruitful for research in human geography on
creditability, and its policy contributions to environmental conservation. By comparing en-
"con~ervation-with-development." vironmental modifications of local land use
Two of the central themes for "conservation- with natural disturbances, human geographers
with-development" converge in the "new can gauge the ecological impacts of resource
ecology." The first theme deals with the provi- management (that is, managing for change). By
sion of management guidelines for environ- studying the technical and social knowledge of
mental conservation. "New ecology" findings local inhabitants, human geographers can aid
offer fresh insights on the importance of het- in the delimitation, implementation, and en-
Human Geography and the "New Ecology" 119

forcement of protected areas (that is, managing temporal (Kolasa and Rollo 1991; Mclntosh
for risk). And by conducting studies of live- 1991).
5. Treatments of a few topics in ecological human
stock carrying capacity that make use of local geography, such as carrying capacity, indicate a
inhabitants' recognition of environmental vari- shift toward a nonequilibrium interpretation of
ation, human geographers may aid in the esti- biophysical environments (for example, Sim-
mation of the range of likely values (that is, mons 1993:llO; cf. Simmons 1981:24-25). But
the sources, significance, and implications of this
managing for uncertainty), Integrating the per- shift in the interpretation of nature have not yet
spectives of the "new ecology," in sum, will been examined.
advance human geography's capacity for con- 6. Although many environment-development stud-
tributions to transdisciplinary understandings ies strive to examine human-environment inner-
of environmental conservation and its relation actions (Watts 1983a, emphasis in original), this
concern does not obviate the distinction be-
to economic development. tween the t w o types of relations identified here.
At its core, this distinction is epistemological; hu-
man-environment relations are subject to one (or
more) epistemological vantage point and the na-
Acknowledgments ture of biophysical environments to another. By
highlighting this distinction, I do disagree with
The Graduate School of the University of Wiscon- the need for a single framework of inneractions.
sin-Madison supported library research during 1990 The distinction is nonetheless necessary in order
and 1991. 1 am grateful for the comments of Thomas to clarify the role for human geography of eco-
Bassett, James Burt, William M . Denevan, Nicholas logical thought in general and the "new ecology"
Entrikin, Sally Horn, Gregory Knapp, Martin Lewis, in particular.
Robert Sack, Melissa Savage, Yi-Fu Tuan, B.L. Turner 7. Some systems ecology research in human geog-
II, Thomas Vale, and Bruce Winterhalder. raphy also used the adaptation concept to ex-
plain relations among humans, such as reciprocal
arrangements for the exchange of labor and
food-gifts (Nietschmann 1973).
Notes 8. It is worth noting that such criticisms reflect a
wide array of vantage points, including non-
1. The implications of "new ecology" are significant Marxist and Marxist ones. M y intent is not to
for various disciplines in the social sciences and offer a review of these critiques but rather to
humanities. Implications for the humanities will delimit the contributions of "new ecology" in un-
be explored by leading ecological thinkers under derstanding the nature of biophysical environ-
the direction of visiting environmental historian ments.
William Cronon in a special faculty seminar to be 9. Studies of the carrying capacity of human popu-
held in 1994 at the University of California-lrvine. lations anticipated several of the "new ecology's"
2. A disturbance is defined as "any relatively dis- criticisms of animal carrying capacity. These stud-
crete event in time that disrupts ecosystem, ies pointed out that spatial and temporal hetero-
community, or population structure and changes geneities in the food-procurement systems of
resources, substrate availability, or the physical human populations limited the usefulness of car-
environment" (Pickett and White 1985:7). rying capacity (Brush 1977; Brush and Turner
3. C.O. Sauer and biogeographer Watt (1947) were 1987; Denevan 1987; Street 1969).
notable opponents of Clements's overly determi- 10. The studies of Knapp (1991:ll) and B.L. Turner
nistic concept of ecological succession. For (1983:lll) assume that crop diversity is adapted
Sauer, history was central to understanding na- to specialized environmental niches, and thus
ture and the modification of it. In writing on "Man they overlook'the implications of "new ecology"
in the Ecology of Tropical America," for instance, perspectives on biophysical environments. Con-
he cautioned that even in the "natural" landscape versely, these t w o scholars explicitly avoid the
the distribution of organisms could not be ex- assumption of adaptation in human-environment
plained solely as a consequence of succession relations and Knapp (1991), paradoxically, goes
and vegetation climax; scholars also needed to on to show the lack of niche specialization in
account for the historically-contingent processes crop diversity.
of disturbance and dispersal (C.O. Sauer 1967). 11. In human geography, assumptions of closed eco-
4. The "new ecology" suggests that stability is ab- logical systems in local areas and their vulnerabil-
sent in certain environments (Baker 1989), a ity to perturbation (Grossman 1981:222) have not
finding at odds with the assumption of single or been fully critiqued by a "new ecology" perspec-
multiple stable states. The assumption of multiple tive. "New ecology" holds not only that such
stable states in human geography (Kates systems are open (a critique made by Knapp
1987:530; see also Holling 1973) thus needs to 1987:129-132), but also that exchanges may not
be reexamined. This realization has been accom- be perturbing.
I
panied by a notable change in ecological termi-
nology. Recent work in biological ecology and ' 12. This divergence is critical because ecological
concepts have long been used to consider both
biogeography thus seeks to describe and define I human-environment relations as well as the na-
nonequilibrium "heterogeneity," both spatial and 1 ture of biophysical environments (Worster 1977;
120 Zimmerer

1988). But the Prospect of unity promised in Bennett, J. W. 1976. The Ecological Transition: Cul-
ecology has waned as ecology's attempts to em- tural Anthropology and Human Adaptation. New
brace human-environment relations were re- York: Pergamon.
buffed by widespread evidence that nonfunc-
Bernard, F. E. 1985. Planning and Environmental
tionalist human behavior and social organization
shape environmental modification in important Risk in Kenyan Drylands. Geographical Review
ways (Zimmerer nd.). The nature of biophysical 75(1):58-70.
environments, by contrast, has remained solidly Bernard, F. E., Campbell, D. I.,and ~ h o m D.
, J. 1989.
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5(4):399-421.
Blaikie, P. 1985. The Political Economy o f Soil Ero-
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Zimmerer, Karl S. 1994. Human Geography and the "New Ecology": The Prospect and Promise
of Integration. Annals o f the Association of American Geographers 84(1):108-125. Abstract.

The "new ecology" underscores the role of nonequilibrium conditions in biophysical environ-
ments, a reorientation of biological ecology based in part on biogeography. This paper describes
the contributions of the "new ecology" and examines their implications for the analysis of
biophysical environments in human geography, the most notable of which is a reformulation of
certain key ecological postulates (generalized carrying capacity, area-biodiversity postulate, bio-
diversity-stability postulate). The irony of these reformulations is that our advanced under-
standings of biophysical environments come at the expense of the perceived certainty of
prediction and possible justification for human-induced environmental degradation. These
difficulties are not insuperable, however, as is readily demonstrated by the applications of the
"new ecology" in landscape ecology and agroecology. Their example may prove instructive as
geographers integrate the "new ecology's" perspectives on biophysical environments and in-
terpret the relations between environmental conservation and economic development. Key
Words: ecology, environmental thought, philosophy of human geography, human-nature the-
ory, cultural ecology.