Richard Forman is considered the father of landscape ecology because of his work linking ecological science and spatial patterns. This has formed the basis for landscape ecology to become a strong tool for landscape architects and planners to make decisions at different scales and sites. KOTE was able to arrange an interview with Forman during his visit to NMBU (Norwegian University of Life Sciences) in October, where he held a lecture about how to handle population growth combined with ecosystem care.
Taran Aanderaa, student landskapsarkitektur NMBU, nettredaksjonen og
Vaar Bothner, student landskapsarkitektur NMBU, nettredaktør
Landscape ecology aroused as a discipline in the 80s and emphasizes the connections between pattern, process and scales in the landscape mosaic. It addresses environmental and ecological issues at a broad-scale, and provides principles to examine spatial patterns in relation to ecosystems, species and populations.
The development of landscape ecology
Forman has published numerous books on the topic and at age 81 he still teaches landscape ecology at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He published his last book in 2014, and he still travels the world doing research and field work. As he is known to be the father of landscape ecology we are curious to learn more about the origins of the field.
"I had a feeling that a scientist does not like to have, and that was that I was doing bad research"
In 1976 Forman was working as an ecologist on a project investigating the connections between forest size and biodiversity. During this project he realized that the way they did research they completely ignored the surroundings of the studied forest patches, and assumed that the wood was a universe on its own.
"I had a feeling that a scientist does not like to have, and that was that I was doing bad research. I felt terrible for 24 hours, but then I started to think that this was in fact quite interesting. I looked into all my books and there was nothing published related to patches, landscape mosaics or corridors. I went to the library and pulled out everything I could find, and after three months I was truly excited. At this moment I was really a landscape ecologist because I was interested in the spatial patterns of the landscape.”
Previous to this, ecology was focused on single species and individual habitats. The acknowledgement of spatial landscape patterns as an important factor led to the development of landscape ecology as a distinct field. Although Forman has considered himself a landscape ecologist since 1976, the field was only recognized in 1986, after he published the first modern book on landscape ecology.
Landscape ecology for landscape architects and planners
Landscape architects and planners often find it hard to implement landscape ecology at a site scale because the principles are quite broad and unspecific. We asked Forman about how landscape ecology can be used in projects and decision making. He stresses the importance of studying movement and flows that influence the site on a bigger scale. These flows might consist of water, traffic, bikers, migratory birds, wind, children or a variety of other things.
“After mapping flows, one can start the design process including and enhancing desired flows. This leads to more holistic decisions that safeguard important social and biotic functions. If you think of a site primarily from an aesthetically point of view, you will miss the point of all the other functions and values this site could have. That is a missed opportunity.”
“Change represents opportunity”
Optimist about the future
When we ask him how he´s looking upon the future, Forman characterizes himself as an optimist and a realist.
“There are many things that needs to be done in order to turn the adverse trajectory of today’s society, But I believe that bright people have the opportunity to change things. Landscape ecology plays an important role in the way that we develop our environment, and will be an important foundation for planning our future and create more holistic design processes.”
A final point made by Forman is how change represents opportunities. As landscape architects and planners we should look for potential changes in our environment, and seize the opportunities to improve conditions for people and biodiversity.
After fourtyfive minutes Forman is picked up by a colleague. He has been at the university all day, and needs to get his field work done before it gets dark. We thank him for taking the time to meet us, to which he answers “Thanks for taking the time to listen”.
To learn more about the topic, Forman recommends one of his last books Landscape Ecology Principles in Landscape Architecture and Land-Use Planning that he has published together with NMBU student James D. Olson and Wenche Dramstad who is a professor at NMBU. This book provides principles and examples on how landscape ecology can be implemented by landscape architects and planners.